Did you ever wonder why "Lion of the Desert" is so obscure? Here's why...
It cost $35 million, has three big name stars, was shot on location and is epic in scope, but it only grossed $1 million worldwide and sits alongside other big money losers of the time period, like "Heaven's Gate" (1980) and "Inchon" (1981). Was it because it was supported by Gaddafi? Was it because it portrayed the Italians in a bad light and freedom-fighting Libyans as the protagonists? Or maybe it simply lacked the pizzazz to draw audiences.
For me, it's the last one. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good in this historical film and the movie perks up whenever Steiger and Reed are on the screen; Quinn too, but less so. And you can't beat the authentic locations and action/adventure; the cliff-gorge battle, for instance, is a treat. Yet there's something meh about the overall proceedings. It lacks the artistic style of "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962). It doesn't help that the first act is relatively tedious and the action doesn't kick-in until the 40 minute mark.
Since the movie lights up whenever Reed and Quinn are on the screen (Steiger's Mussolini being a minor character), the script should've focused more on their characters. When these two opponents finally confront each other at the end it's gripping drama. But the rest of the movie isn't so compelling, disregarding the positives noted. Furthermore, the propagandizing Libyan bias is laughable.
Still, if you like flicks like "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Braveheart" (1995), it's worth checking out.