Starring: James Mason, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon, Peter Sellers
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written By: Vladimir Nabokov
Rating: Unrated (US) Running Time: 2 hr 32 min
Vladimir Nabokov wrote the screenplay to his own book and with Kubrick directing this film is marvelously entertaining. Shot in crisp black and white, this dark comedy is great fun. Our anti-hero Professor Humbert Humbert marries his landlady, Charlotte (Shelley Winters) to get closer to her daughter. Tragedy strikes when Charlotte discovers “Hum’s” true intentions, and Lolita and the professor hit the road.
James Mason is pitch perfect as the intellectual with the taboo and unspoken desire. He is an old stuffy teacher and we watch his desperate yearning for the much younger daughter of his landlady. Although it is a disturbing situation and often painful and embarrassing to watch it is never exploitative or ugly. In fact we are made to feel great pity for him and delight in his naughtiness as his forbidden yearning is taken on the road and put through many covert and stressful situations.
We get caught up in the everyday worries of him looking after Lolita as a daughter and the twisted worry of their perverse relationship. The film is never lurid and is surprisingly tasteful considering its paedophilic subject matter. The film constantly uses innuendos (“Wednesday she’s going to have a cavity filled by your Uncle Ivor”) and knowing winks and nods as to what is going on with the sleeping arrangements.
Shelley Winters is superb as an annoying, clinging and sadly desperate and lonely landlady. As awfully pushy as she is, you can’t help but feel sorry when she is confronted by the real situation. Sue Lyon plays the nymphet with a perfect balancing act of innocence and flirtatious manipulation. She soon discovers the power she has over her step dad and when she realizes it’s just the two of them hitting the road, becomes wise and develops subtle control over her lovelorn custodian.
There is much delightful squirming in this hormonally charged film and some jokes are a little telegraphed, for example, Lolita is sent to Camp Climax for girls (drive carefully!) for summer and we also get a fantastically drawn out awkward scene where Humbert finally gets her into a hotel room only to have an extended problem with a folding bed.
The film is utterly compelling as it gleefully presents us a very wrong situation of an adult abusing the trust of a minor. It sounds disturbed but is very funny and impeccably well made and acted.
A good size TV is fine for this mostly indoor film.
Every Peter Sellers scene is a delight as he is a more devious and clever pervert than our lead. At one point he pretends to be a policeman and nervously rambles to our lead “Come to think of it. She was fairly tall. I wish I had a pretty, tall, lovely little girl like that.”