LOLITA (1962)


U.K. • 1961 • BLACK AND WHITE • 35MM • 152 MIN

‘How did they ever make a film of Lolita?’ was the tag-line. ‘Supremely well’ is the answer, Kubrick subduing the eroticism of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel and replacing it with, in Penelope Houston’s phrase, a ‘controlled intensity and stabbing irony.’

A superb opening sets the tone, as the murderous designs of Humbert Humbert (James Mason) on Quilty (Peter Sellers), the man he believes stole Lolita’s love, are momentarily deflected by Quilty’s verbal insanity, games of ping-pong, and his bizarre appearance in a Roman toga (perhaps the director’s private stab at Spartacus). Quilty symbolises Humbert’s guilt — the demented force that stands between his desire and its attainment — and Sellers is at his most manically inspired. Equally fine are Sue Lyon as the underage object of desire and Shelley Winters as Lolita’s grotesque but pitiable mother. James Mason’s performance is, however, the film’s emotional core, actor and director charting with consummate wit and poignancy the character’s doomed progress along the path of both forbidden and unrequited love.

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