Lolita

1962, Movie, NR, 152 mins

Review

LOLITA
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A fascinating if problematic early film from Stanley Kubrick, perhaps the most obsessive of the great auteurs of the 1960s, made just on the cusp of a run of cinematic masterpieces. Here Vladimir Nabakov adapts his own controversial satirical novel about the obsessive love a British middle aged professor develops for a 12-year-old girl. While the novel outraged many bluenoses, the film advances the age of the "nymphet" to about 15 thereby neutralizing much of of the controversy. It's quite long--too long--possibly as a result of having Nabokov do his own screen adaptation. Nabakov's novels are so intensely concerned with language that one would expect that they would be particularly difficult to translate to the screen. LOLITA, a great grey comedy of the 1950s, succeeds in carefully setting up and knocking down the shibboleths of the silent generation.

James Mason is the smitten professor, Humbert Humbert, in love with the American girl, Lolita (Sue Lyon). Shelly Winters is the vulgar mother with misguided intellectual aspirations who is attracted to Humbert. The ever resourceful Peter Sellers, with a great American accent and a succession of disguises, is a standout as Quilty. The scene in which he explains himself to Mason is a small masterpiece of the acting art. Mason and Winters are less showy but equally impressive while the young Lyons, sadly, is only barely adequate.

The film is not particularly shocking or titillating; the most erotic scene in the film is a pedicure. Kubrick exhibited great subtlety (he had to, or they'd have given this one a hard time in the theaters)--perhaps too much subtlety. The script was nominated for an Oscar.

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Love and Death in Kubrick: A Critical Study of the Films from Lolita through Eyes Wide Shut
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