Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic Hollywood screenwriter who lost everything because of his drinking, arrives in Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There, he meets and forms an uneasy friendship and non-interference pact with prostitute Sera.
Humbert Humbert, a divorced British professor of French literature, travels to small-town America for a teaching position. He allows himself to be swept into a relationship with Charlotte Haze, his widowed and sexually famished landlady, whom he marries in order that he might pursue the woman's 14-year-old flirtatious daughter, Lolita, with whom he has fallen hopelessly in love, but whose affections shall be thwarted by a devious trickster named Clare Quilty. Written by
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.
106 of 142 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?