Quicksand, thirst and sadism: the movies have always traded to good effect on the romantic allure of the Middle East, from Valentino to Peter O'Toole. Unfortunately, this slice of epic schlock has all the seductive power of a syphilitic camel. Lacking enough guts to go for the stops-out treatment suggested by its story-line - the diplomatic pursuit of an American woman gone native - it stutters off into liberal apologetics for Islam's quainter customs (summary executions, their polite reverence for women, and so on). The second half picks up the right note with Slocombe's atmospheric photography of Bedouin thundering around ancient Lost Cities; but Zorba the Arab inevitably spoils it all with spontaneous ethnic dancing of appalling jollity. No great sheiks. CPea.