A New York City doctor, who is married to an art curator, pushes himself on a harrowing and dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife admits that she once almost cheated on him.
Humbert Humbert forces a confrontation with a man, whose name he has just recently learned, in this man's home. The events that led to this standoff began four years earlier. Middle aged Humbert, a European, arrives in the United States where he has secured at job at Beardsley College in Beardsley, Ohio as a Professor of French Literature. Before he begins his post in the fall, he decides to spend the summer in the resort town of Ramsdale, New Hampshire. He is given the name of Charlotte Haze as someone who is renting a room in her home for the summer. He finds that Charlotte, widowed now for seven years, is a woman who puts on airs. Among the demonstration of those airs is throwing around the name of Clare Quilty, a television and stage script writer, who came to speak at her women's club meeting and who she implies is now a friend. Those airs also mask being lonely, especially as she is a sexually aggressive and liberated woman. Humbert considers Charlotte a proverbial "joke" but ...Written by
DIRECTOR_CAMEO(Stanley Kubrick): In the opening minutes of the film, as the shot dissolves to the mansion interior, just before Humbert opens the door, Kubrick makes an unintentional cameo, walking out of the shot. See more »
When Humbert is considering shooting Charlotte while she supposedly is taking a bath, he uncorks and drinks from a liquor bottle, tossing the cork onto the end table. Seconds later he is shown with the same cork in his left hand, which he then places on the end table. See more »
One of the must see films in the crop of ultra pitch black comedies about male insecurity and youth
I have seen both versions of Lolita now. The 1997 version, directed by Adrian Lyne, certainly has it's merits, and is headed by two very good leads in Irons and Swain. But it is this, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation, that I prefer overall. Kubrick said in an interview after the film's release, "Had I known what I would've had to cut out, I probably wouldn't of made the film." It's a surprising irony though that what had to be suppressed or changed from the book works to his advantage. Like other works under the master's belt, this has some comedy that is so dark that you almost (or do) feel guilty after laughing. The innuendo, even decades later, is still as provocative. And when it gets disturbing, it doesn't go too far over the line. I have not read the book, but I have heard much about it, what was different, and I think Kubrick at least is most successful at infusing his trademark touches to the material.
For starters, there is the acting. Like with for example Full Metal Jacket, the supporting actors somehow outrank the leads. This is not to say that James Mason (Humbert Humbert) and Sue Lyon (Dolores "Lolita" Hayes) are not highly believable in their parts. But in looking at Peter Sellers in his multiple roles via the curious, insanely oddball Quilty, and Shelley Winters as Lolita's mother, they are simply flat-out brilliant (I would choose a better word if I could, believe me). Right from the first scene, which happens to take the last scene of the story in place, Sellers doesn't have me for a second thinking that he isn't perfectly off-the-wall. As was in Dr. Strangelove, his contributions to the project are incalculable. Winters, on the other hand, finds that balance with Mrs. Hayes as a lonely middle-aged woman looking for companionship, though unable to shake her over-protective tendencies.
As for Mason and Lyon, their scenes together are at the least a little overtly melodramatic (which might have been the idea, it may take another few viewings to really grasp the weight of their performances) and at best helps define what the film is about. Mason finds the right notes, if a little anxiously and stuffy at times, in how Humbert is almost like a kid trying to break out of his middle-aged professor image. When he meets Lolita he's awestruck, and falls for her hard, very hard, which sets up what happens to the two of them for the rest of the film. What is even more interesting is how the dynamic is placed with Lolita, who is wiser in ways Humbert is not, and how the sort of idea of mutual youth is tempting, but definitely not everlasting. As the film unfolds it's third act, the film becomes an intense kind of morality tale, where male insecurities are touched upon with Humbert, and even Quilty to a degree. Kubrick, being one of the finest of dramatic character psychologists, hardly skips a beat in making sure not to lose the strange bits (which must be some of the better bits in Nabokov's text) with humor.
Then there is the most rewarding thing of all in a Kubrick film, which is seeing how he photographs the scenes and characters. It holds some of the moves and angles and lighting he's held to for all of his career (some shots show as a precursor to Eyes Wide Shut perhaps), and how the camera stays on the characters in many scenes (actually, almost all the scenes) adds that right tension and space between us and them. If anything else, just watch the film for the sake of watching a film moving and staying put and capturing faces in particular ways. Lolita, in the end, may not be one of my very favorite Kubrick films (though only time and repeat viewings will tell), but it's certainly worth a viewing. Some Kubrick fans may come to this after seeing the essentials like 2001, the Shining, or Clockwork Orange, however it could come as being a favorite in some circles. It certainly is, for my money, as enticing and intriguing a sexual satire I've seen in many a moon.
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