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Lion of the Desert (1980)

In 1929, Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini appoints General Rodolfo Graziani as colonial governor to Italian Libya with orders to stamp-out all resistance from Libyan nationalists led by rebel guerrilla leader Omar Mukhtar.


Moustapha Akkad


David Butler (additional material), H.A.L. Craig | 1 more credit »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Anthony Quinn ... Omar Mukhtar
Oliver Reed ... Gen. Rodolfo Graziani
Irene Papas ... Mabrouka
Raf Vallone ... Colonel Diodiece
Rod Steiger ... Benito Mussolini
John Gielgud ... Sharif El Gariani
Andrew Keir ... Salem
Gastone Moschin ... Major Tomelli
Stefano Patrizi ... Lt. Sandrini
Adolfo Lastretti ... Colonel Sarsani
Sky du Mont ... Prince Amadeo (as Sky Dumont)
Takis Emmanuel ... Bu-Matari
Rodolfo Bigotti Rodolfo Bigotti ... Ismail
Robert Brown ... Al Fadeel
Eleonora Stathopoulou Eleonora Stathopoulou ... Ali's Mother


In Fascist Italy pre-World War II, the cruel General Rodolfo Graziani is directly assigned by Benito Mussolini to fight in the colonial war in Libya to vanquish the Arab nation. However, his troops are frequently defeated by the national leader Omar Mukhtar and his army of Bedouins. But the Butcher of Ethiopia and Libya uses a dirty war against the natives, slaughtering women, children, and aged people, to subdue Mukhtar. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


A giant of a man against a general seeking glory...a spectacular adventure of arch enemies in battle.


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Libya | USA


Arabic | Italian | English

Release Date:

16 May 1981 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

Lion of the Desert See more »

Filming Locations:

Italy See more »


Box Office


$35,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (DVD) | (theatrical)

Sound Mix:



Black and White | Black and White (archive footage)| Color (Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Reportedly, some scenes featured up to ten thousand extras. See more »


Mussolini is talking to Graziani in the opening when he looks the map of Libya, and says that all the green land is for Italy, but this is a topographical map that shows land greener as it becomes lower by sea level. 90% of the area of Libya is desert. See more »


Omar Mukhtar: You can only do to me what God decides for me.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The U.S.A. Home Video VHS release in the '80s runs 160 minutes. Footage has been added in the Director's Cut released on Anchor Bay Video. This version, released in 1998, runs 206 minutes. See more »


Referenced in The Making of Lion of the Desert (1981) See more »


Marcia Reale
Music by Giuseppe Gabetti
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User Reviews

A true financial disaster, but one of the greatest films to watch.
25 July 2003 | by zhrmod1See all my reviews

Moustapha Akkad, who produced the "Halloween" series is a Syrian-born filmmaker who has two ambitious epic films as a director. His first, the relatively forgotten film The "Message", about Mohammed and the Koran, it was (mistycal enough for me) a huge success worldwide. Then, Akkad lured Libyan dictator Molomar Qaddafi to invest million $35 in the war epic "Lion of the Desert".... One of the largest financial disasters in film history, though one of the greatest films I've seen... (Does this make sense???..)

Anthony Quinn (somehow reprising his role in the epic "Lawrence of Arabia") portrays the Libyan Guerilla fighter "Omar Mukhtar" who pledged his (as well as his countrymen's) life to drive the invading Italian forces out.

The story depicts post World War 1, pre WW2 era where Benito Mussolini (played by Rod Steiger) tries carving up the globe with empires for Italy. He uses Libya as an "easy" stepping stone to the the Middle East (Libya's occupation was not started by him.. funny and demagogical enough the young Mussolini demonstrated against the occupation of Libya in 1911).

Mukhtar, the village teacher, on the other hand made this difficult and was so successful waging his campaign against the Italians, that Mussolini sends in his top general "The Butcher" Graziani, played deliciously by the late Sir Oliver Reed (the Trap 1966, The Four Musketeers 1974, Gladiator 2000 and many more) to straighten things out.

First, the Italians just "tour" Libya, raiding, burning, killing and raping... but when an entire attack convoy is completely wiped out by rebels, Graziani decides to wage an all-out war against Libyans. Graziani pretends to come to terms with Mukhtar, but, at the same time, brings thousands of fresh Italian troops to Tripoli and marches them inland. He is the first general to use planes and tanks in the desert, destroying town after town. This way he successfully corners Mukhtar and his rebels in the mountains.

Historically accurate, in its portrayal of the Italian army and of the campaign itself, Lion of the Desert is an action packed, nearly (I say nearly..) flawless epic war film.

Rod Steiger starts with some over-acting marching around his offices barking at people. But the film quickly shifts towards the vastness and splendor of the Sahara desert. It has excellent action sequences, that employ splendid special effects and lots of stunt work.

On top of this, it's one of the bloodiest war films I've seen, with bullet wounds spraying blood and people smashed to pulps by Italian tanks. God knows how this film faded away with a mediocre rating, but then again noone really saw the film right?

The film is also a fascinating portrayal of the Arabs way of life and how it conflicts with European ideals.

The musical score of this film, by Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia), is only great at times, but often seems uninspired and lame compared to his previous works on David Lean's great films.

The cinematography and editing are classy, (one con though.. the cameras seemed a little shy of hanging around close to the big gasoline truck explosion. The best scenes in the film are battle scenes, one involving a vast army of extras destroying a nearly helpless arab village, another with Graziani's army battling the Libyans for control of a mountain bridge. Other than those two, I can't say great about the 3 or so other battle scenes (compared to these two).The overall effect of battle senes is though quite satisfying.

The cast of this film, doesn't lack big-names like Irene Papas and Sir John Gielgud but the roles were inconsequential as Mukhtar's friends. Then, there's a lot of the old Italian B-movie stars in small roles as Italian soldiers and aides..

Akkad's strong point seems to be showing Italian artillery blowing the bewildered Bedouin warriors while his weak point seems to be spending the money. The film didn't really need the lavishness and authenticity of the picture. Do you really have to hire thousands of extras and build many many replica tanks just to go destroy them for the authenticy? No surprise this movie lost money, but the fact that it made almost no money astonishes me. Could be cause early 1980´s were wrong timing for an epic film. People watched "The Empire Strikes Back" and didn't want to see a thorough recreation of some war, most never heard of.

Lion of the Desert may not be perfect, but it's just as splendid a viewing as any of the old big-budget war films like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, only this one's got a bit more action and politically ignored (as propoganda or is it the propoganda that endorses ignoring it??).

I highly recommend seeing the DVD in Widescreen, crisp quality and good 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, plus lots of informative extra features.

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