Friday, February 8, 2013

Great Performance Reviews in History: Lawrence of Arabia

Since employment and the search for employment seems to be on so many people's minds, I wish to share with you what I believe is one of the best "performance reviews" in film.  There are a few others, some more comical than this, but this is perhaps the best of the serious reviews.  It may even have some basis in fact.  That is less clear.

In this sequence, T. E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, has just come out of the desert and announced that he and the Arab Revolt have taken Aqaba. He is escorted into the presence of his commanding general, General Allenby, who is many levels above Lawrence's nominal chain of command.

Of course, this is from David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) starring Peter O'Toole as T. E. Lawrence. 

The sequence is here, until Youtube takes it down.

 The Review

Allenby reviews his file, questions his actions, promotes him, and builds up his morale to motivate him to go back and continue his work. How many of us can say that we have had as well-informed and insightful a review, or one designed to help us do our best work?

Lawrence, who of course realizes he is being manipulated, tells Allenby to his face, "Youre a clever man, sir", and through his presentation makes it clear that he is accusing Allenby of doing something nasty by rewarding Lawrence and making him like it.   I don't know about you, but I think that is pretty funny.  

Allenby manipulates his employee by telling him he has done a good job, promoting him and buying him a drink.  What a tricky, low down thing to do!

As background on the film, many of the key plot points in the movie are historical.   Which is appalling when you think about it.   Of course any detail or dialogue or colorful incident at an oasis or whatnot is certainly fiction, at least to some degree.   I am not sure if Lawrence ever met Allenby or if Allenby invited him for a drink at the Officer's club.  I would tend to doubt it, but I do not know.  But I think that we can be certain that if they did meet, whatever they said to each other was different than what we see here.

The performance review:

Allenby: (reading from a file) Undisciplined .... Unpunctual ... Untidy ... Several languages,
knowledge of music, literature, knowledge of ... , knowledge of ... You're an interesting
man, there is no doubt about it. Who told you to take Aqaba?
Lawrence: Nobody.
Allenby: Sir.
Lawrence: Sir.
Allenby: Then why did you?
Lawrence: Aqaba is important.
Allenby: Why is it important?
Lawrence: Its the Turkish route to the canal.
Allenby: Not anymore, they're coming through Bathsheba.
Lawrence: But we've gone forward to Gaza.
Alleny: So?
Lawrence: So, that left Aqaba behind your right.
Allenby: True.
Lawrence: And it will be further behind your right when you go for Jerusalem.
Allenby: Am I going for Jerusalem?
Lawrence: Yes.
Allenby: Very well, Aqaba behind my right.
Lawrence: It threatened El Harish and Gaza.
Allenby: Anything else?
Lawrence: Yes, Aqaba is linked with Medina.
Allenby: Do you think we should shift them out of Medina now?
Lawrence: No, I think you should leave them there.
Allenby: You acted without orders you know.
Lawrence: Shouldn't officers use their initiative at all times?
Allenby: Not really. Its awfully dangerous, Lawrence.
Lawrence: Yes, I know.
Allenby: Already?
Lawrence: Yes.
Allenby: I'm promoting you Major.
Lawrence: I don't think that's a very good idea.
Allenby: I didn't ask you. I want you to go back and carry on the good work.
Lawrence: No, thank you, sir.

For those who are interested, the scene where Allenby announces Lawrence's promotion at the Officer's club is here:

See also:

The Arab Revolt

General Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby

Thomas Edward Lawrence

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) on IMDB

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