Egypt, and the world, has been in mourning the passing off legendary actor, Omar Sharif. The 83 year-old Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee was revered worldwide and had become synonymous with the Golden Age of Cinema both here and abroad. While only a handful of Sharif’s films are still discussed in modern film circles, the man’s versatility saw him take on a wide range of roles in a colourful career spanning almost 120 different projects. Here are my top ten.
10. Vogel in The Last Valley (1971)
One of many book-to-film adaptations that Sharif was involved in, The Last Valley wasn’t critically or financially successful, but the dark, almost realist film, which was set during one of the bloodiest conflicts in European history, the Thirty years War, saw Sharif put in another excellent performance opposite British actor, Michael Caine.
Did you know? This would be the first of two films Sharif worked with Caine; they starred together in Ashanti in 1979.
9. Feodor Sverdlov in The Tamarind Seed (1974)
Sharif played characters of all nationalities throughout the career and manages to be every bit as charismatic and charming as a Russian agent, Feodor Sverdlov, who finds himself involved in a complicated romance with a British woman holidaying in the Caribbean – all the makings of a great romance, if you ask us. What elevated this film, however, is the fact that it’s every bit as good a thriller as it as a romance and Sharif acts as the perfect foil for his co-star, Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music).
Did you know? The Tamarind Seed was once parodied in MAD Magazine as the The Tommy-Red Seed.
8. Monsieur Ibrahim Deneji in Monsieur Ibrahim (2003)
One of the standout films in the later part of his career, Monsieur Ibrahim is an off-beat comedy-drama that sees Sherif take up the role of the eponymous character – a Turkish Muslim shopkeeper who comes to befriend a modest Jewish boy in a poor area of Paris. The film gained a Golden Globe nomination and individual acclaim for Sharif who won the Best Actor at the Cesar Awards in France.
Did you know? The film is based on a play and book, both written by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt.
7. Nick Arnstein in Funny Girl (1968)
“Hello, gorgeous.” Based loosely on the life of comedienne, Fanny Brice, Funny Girl saw Barbara Streisand make her film debut with the role of a lifetime. The film showcased another little appreciate element of Sharif’s talents, with the actor – who at this point was considered a far bigger name than his co-star – flexing his singing skills. While plaudits were largely aimed at Streisand’s remarkable performance, Sharif played a huge part in the success of the film as Brice’s gambling husband, Nick, in typical Sharif suaveness.
Did you know? A sequel named Funny Lady was made seven years later and was nominated for five academy awards.
6. Major Grau in The Night of the Generals (1967)
A rich and complex tapestry of a film, The Night of the Generals has Sharif front-and-centre as a justice-enforcing German intelligence officer investigating the brutal murder of a Polish prostitute at the hands of a German General during World War II. The film reunited Sharif with Lawrence of Arabia co-star, Peter O’Toole, who plays the role of one of the suspects. With a running time of almost two-and-a-half hours and a huge ensemble cast, this is a film that requires your undivided attention, but is a rewarding story that takes Sharif on adventures in Warsaw, Paris and Hamburg.
Did you know? Having signed studio contracts years earlier before they were famous, Sharif and O’Toole were paid peanuts for this film.
5. Hussein in Ashe’it Hob (1961)
One year before making his breakthrough appearance in Lawrence of Arabia, Sharif played opposite the legendary Soad Hosny in Ashei’t Hob (sometime translated as The Agony of Love and other times as A Rumour of Love). A far cry from the image that he has cultivated in Hollywood, Sharif took on the role of socially-awkward good-guy, Hussein, as he toils to catch the attention of the beautiful, care-free Samiha. A personal favourite from the ‘Golden Age’.
Did you know? The films is said to be based on 1925 American three-act play, The Whole Town’s Talking, which was made into a Hollywood movie in 1926.
4. Francisco in Behold a Pale Horse (1964)
Sandwiched in between Sharif’s two biggest roles, 1964 drama, Behold a Pale Horse, saw Sharif line-up alongside Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn in a film that told of Spanish bandit’s return to his home town after a 20 year exile. Despite being in the company of more established actors, Sharif steals the show as a conflicted priest who becomes entangled in a bitter conflict between the bandit and a relentless policeman.
Did you know? This wasn’t Sharif’s proudest achievement – he is quoted as calling the film a ‘bad film by a good director (Fred Zinneman)’
3. Ibrahim in Fe Baitena Ragul (1961)
As the last film that Sharif starred in before beginning his infiltration of Hollywood, Fe Baitena Ragul (A Man in Our House) is considered a classic of Egyptian cinema. This isn’t the most subtle of nationalist films, but provides an engaging portrayal of working class Egyptians battling the rule of the British. Sharif plays a young resistance fighter the beautifully shot film alongside Zahrat El Ola and Roshdy Abaza.
Did you know? In one scene, the film uses a piece of music from Stanley Kubrick’s Vertigo.
2. Yuri in Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Three years after giving Sharif his big break, director David Lean turned to Egypt’s most celebrated actor once more and has stated that Sharif was born to play the character of Yuri in a story that tells of a Russian poet and physician’s hardships during Word War I and the October Revolution. Playing alongside British actress, Julie Christie, the multi Oscar and Golden Globe-winning Doctor Zhivago is the film that cemented Sharif’s image as the suavest of heartthrobs. By this time, Sharif was a well on his way to greatness.
Did you know? When adjusted for inflation, Doctor Zhivago is the eighth highest grossing film of all time.
1. Sharif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The role that put Sharif on the map and defined his career. The Egyptian actor’s first turn in a non-Egyptian film is the stuff of legends and his character’s intro scene has come to be widely though of as one of the best in history, seeing Sharif emerge from a distant and shimmering desert horizon towards camera – see below. Goosebumps. One would think that the presence of another acting legend, Peter O’Toole, would rule all in what is considered by many to be one of the best films of all time, but Sharif’s sheer charisma and intensity earned him wide acclaim and a Golden Globe win.
Did you know? This might never have happened – Sharif was drafted in only after first choice for the role, Horst Buchholz, repeatedly rejected the role due to scheduling conflicts.
By Haisam Awad