Following the premiere of Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean began to prepare his film for general release by trimming down the film's original running time of 222 minutes. The following are a transcription of Lean’s typewritten notes provided to Sam Spiegel, Robert Bolt, and Anne V. Coates. They are a fascinating and insightful document into Lean’s process for polishing one of his greatest films.
December 28th, 1962.

Lawrence. Cutting Comments



1. Map Room. Billiards. Murray’s Office. I am quite sure that a big cut could and should be made in this early part of this picture. The fact that no-one has remarked on the length of these particular scenes does not impress me as they occur so early in the film that length does no [sic] enter anyone's head at this stage. I find the map room a goodish scene in a goodish British film. I would, without a second thought, dispense with it but for the match incident. I am not absolutely convinced that the match incident is worth the footage involved. It would not make a nonsequiter of blowing out the match in Dryden’s office as I believe an audience would take it on its face value and believe that Dryden’s funny sense of fun referred to Lawrence's general behavior. Can one of us think of a way--a place--to start the map room later? (Such as Lawrence in the middle of lighting the cigarette for Hartley and the other man coming and saying “Mr. Lawrence?” “Yes.” Flimsey, sir.”) Whatever do we do I would be happy to cut out the whole of the billiards scene and cut straight from the map room to Murray’s office. I have turned more and more against this billiards scene every time I have seen it with an audience. It doesn't come off as we had hoped. Even the beer spilling falls flat. I think the audience doesn't quite know what to make of the scene. I know it introduces the Club Secretary but I think we could pick up the him later when Lawrence returns with Farraj.



Murray. I think the start of the scene must be cut--under the circumstances of its length pressure. I think the scene is alright--but it is exposition--and I query if the exposition is needed. The boldest out of all--which I throw into the arena--is to cut from Murray at the St. Paul's saying..he was on my staff in Cairo... straight to Murray’s office the Hawthorne entering and saying “Lawrence, sir.” and Murray replying “Show him in.” I think this might work wonderfully. It would be a bold jump ahead and would, I think, make an effective time cut pictorially. We would be jumping the audience forward and into the middle of a scene and I think they would soon pick up the threads. Please let us consider this. I know it sounds pretty drastic but I think it would have a good impact. I would rather be drastic in this scene than nibble at half a dozen.



While on these three scenes let us remember that we could cut the map room before that scene has ended--for example, after Lawrence say's [sic] "The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts"--straight to Murray's office somewhere before Lawrence enters or before the end of the billiard scene to Murray's office somewhere before Lawrence enters.

Entrance of the Desert. Now [that] I have seen the film with several audiences, I am very doubtful about cutting out the Harith country scene with the little caravan in the distance. Very doubtful.


Entry of Ali. The whole of this scene works even better than I had hoped. Please do not let us change it.





Echo scene. Sam is very anxious to make a cut here. I am not entirely against it if one of us can think of a good and smooth transition into Brighton. We can't, for instance, just dissolve from Ali's "God be with you." to Brighton yelling, "Hey !! You!!" Very clumsy from my, the director's, point of view. We can't dissolve to the clapping unless we have some singing--and I think the singing is all or nothing. The only thing I can suggest is that we dissolve from the sky as Ali moves out picture after his, "God be with you." to Lawrence on his camel in the long shot which is now the first shot of the singing sequence. (This would mean that we cut out the extreme long shot which follows Ali at present.) And from this long shot cut straight to Brighton saying "Hey! You !!."--thus cutting out all the singing shots. No good pretending. I'm not very happy about this and am very sorry to give up the pan down the rock-face which introduces Brighton. This sort of cutting takes away the hand-made-article something that this film has. I just don't know. Perhaps we could have a bit of singing and echo what we have left. Unhappy.

Day Exodus. Alright. I know the opening long shot is too orderly, but something tells me that it's not good to go straight into Brighton looking around for planes. Before finally deciding lets look at the second camera which had a long focus lens--and I did not use--which, I believe gives a more disorderly effect and could be held shorter. Must tell you that I'm sorry to say goodbye to the woman's hand in the howdah. Perhaps we could start with this shot instead of the present long shot. Think we have got to start with some sort of orientation shot after the night shot and before Brighton. As a second thought. Suppose we started with the second camera long shot or the howdah shot--then went to Brighton looking round--and then directly to the last shot of the sequence with Imps saying "Aurens?" "You have no servant" etc. and as is--thus cutting out the first attempt to get a cigarette from Lawrence, the orderly and the cigarette business, plus the goosing of the came and the fall off.

Note. I write all this in great trust. I know it's dangerous. We must be very careful not to make sequences into featherweight lantern slides which just tell the plot. This Exodus scene is a case in point. Don't let's jump. The film has a certain something which we must be careful not to destroy. Be warned.

Departure of the Raiding Party. I have suggested this to Sam already. I know he doesn't approve. I still think it would work very well under the present circumstances of length trouble. I would cut straight from Ali saying, "You are mad." to the close shot of the camels feet which now follows Feisal's "In who's name do you ride?" I know there are one or two--what Robert [Bolt] calls "grace notes"--in the Feisal--Lawrence scene but I think the cut would have a real impact and jump the audience forward in an excellent way. Let us ponder this. I think 1% of the audience understand the significance of "In who's name do you ride?". I think the question of whether Lawrence told or did not tell Brighton is unimportant. It's a preparation scene. It's quite a deal of valuable footage. I'm sure--on this occasion--that the actual cut would be most effective plus giving a feeling of speed.


The Anvil. I must start this with a warning note. I am sure that several after-the-fact "editors" will suggest some cuts in the crossings of the Nefud. Again, be warned. It is a delicate balance of near intangibles which can easily be destroyed. I am willing for one cut consisting of one shot in the actual Nefud. It works as I once had it without this particular shot. It's 12 feel long and is the long shot which follows the mirage sequence and immediately precedes the shot of Lawrence shaving. I used an almost exactly similar shot which now follows as a dissolve from the resting during the day sequence (and please don't suggest any monkey business with that sequence.) and leads as a link to the close shot of the stones and camels feet. The cut I am sure of its in the night crossings so the anvil. (Zinnerman--an expert--remarked on it without prompting from me.) After Ali says to Lawrence, "This is the suns anvil" I would go, as is, to the long shot of the ants going out into the anvil and dissolve to the second night sequence with the long shadows and the boy falling of his camel. This would cut out the 3-shot sequence of Lawrence looking at his watch, Ali catching him yawning, and Lawrence settling down on his saddle.
Again I have already suggested this to Sam and indeed did so originally in the actual cutting stage. His argument was that the audience wouldn't feel that the crossing of the actual anvil wasn't long enough. I don't agree. There is a dissolve form day to night which in itself gives a passage of time. The fact that the boy falls of suggest tiredness, and in the little scene I suggest cutting nothing really worthwhile happens. It's another grace note. As Fred Zinneman said, "Do try and get to Gasim's empty camel as soon as possible." I'm sure of this as a good cut--not so much in footage, but in eliminating a feeling of tedium in the audience. We have seen it before. It gives a feeling of leisurely pace which is surely our enemy.