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Whispering, Loudly
littlemartinarocena7 April 2007
A riveting transposition from page to screen. The accomplices are two giants in both fields. Nabokov adapts his own infamous novel for the screen and Kubrick, no less, translates it into images in a way that makes it unique, unforgettable and transcendental without ever putting himself in front of the camera. A Kubrick film can't be recognized by its style. Kubrick never made two films alike but there is something that, unquestionable, makes them stand out. In "Lolita"'s case the mere idea of touching the controversial novel with its taboo subject at its very core seem like a provocation from the word go. Pornography for the thinking man in which the only explicit act is the intention written in the character's eyes. Nothing is excessive and nothing is pulled back. James Mason - villain or victim - is monumental, mo-nu-men-tal! The unspeakable truth never leaves his brow. He is the most civilized man trapped in the lowest echelon of his own psyche. So aware, that it is painful to watch. Shelley Winters goes for it, taking her Mrs Hayes for all its worth and dives into the void of a desperate housewife, craving for sex. It is one of the most entertaining, shattering human spectacles, I've ever seen. But unlike Mason, she's not aware of it. There is a horrible innocence attached to her sickness. Peter Sellers's character from hell, the torturer comes in three riveting characterizations and Sue Lyon's temptress, the child, is the devil incarnate in a performance that defies description. None of them were nominated for Oscars and the film was condemned by every moral group in America and beyond. As film experiences go, this is one of the most provocative, enthralling, disgusting, entertaining and satisfying I've ever been through. Yep, I really mean that.
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A Masterwork of Translation
metaphor-28 March 1999
A significant part of Stanley Kubrick's genius was his ability to translate a literary style into a visual one. It is demonstrated nowhere more brilliantly than in LOLITA and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

LOLITA is perhaps the more stunning accomplishment, in that Nabokov's style is complex and multi-layered. Yet Kubrick captures the effect of it in camera angles and movements, in timing and point of view.

The broadest layer of Nabokov's novel, the parable of the aging culture of Europe trying to revivify itself by debauching the seductive young culture of America, is really missing in the film. But everything else is there, despite the fact that the film departs from the exact events of the novel.

Not to say that the film depends on the novel. It stands by itself quite easily. But it succeeds brilliantly in conveying the ideas and feelings that are the core of the novel, and it does so in completely cinematic terms. If films are to be based on works of literature, this is the way to do it, and the way it is almost never done.
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Lolita 55 years later
damian-fuller4 December 2017
I sat to watch Lolita for the third time. The first time I was too young to truly understand what I was seeing. Then I read the book a few years later and saw the film again. That time it left a mark. I detested James Mason's Humbert Humbert to such a degree that stopped me from accepting him in other roles other than utter villains. To see it now after two decades is a whole other story - All of a sudden James Mason's Humbert Humbert has become human, very human. Corrupt and haunted by the awareness of his own weakness. What a performance. Shelley Winters is superb, unafraid and bold bringing to life an embarrassing human spectacle. What a performance. Peter Sellers is chilling in all of his Quilty incarnations. Sue Lyon is sublime as the innocent torturer. Stanley Kubrick never made 2 films alike but I'm starting to suspect that as literary adaptations go, this is his finest.
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Morally dubious and superficial: Kubrick's worst movie?
Teyss11 October 2019
Warning: Spoilers
A great novel from one of the greatest 20th century authors adapted by one of the greatest directors... must produce a great movie, right? Wrong.

First, let us not undervalue the novel, a reference in world literature: for instance, it is included in the Norwegian Book Club's famous list of the 100 best books of all time and in Nobel laureate Vargas Llosa's selective list of his 9 favourite novels. Amongst many qualities, it is a moral opus on humanity and monstrosity: Humbert is a paedophile, yet he is also intelligent, seducing and pathetic. We understand and pity him, to an extent, regarding his shattered childhood love for Annabel, his mother's early death, his divorce, his stays in psychiatric hospitals, etc. On this perilous path, Nabokov treads carefully by avoiding two opposite pitfalls: depicting Humbert as a complete monster, which would be of limited interest; finding excuses for his behaviour, which could represent a justification for any crime. Hence everything in the novel is put into perspective: Humbert's mental illness, his thoughts about this, his intelligence, his humour and, most of all, his narration.

Indeed, Nabokov remarkably handles first-person narration: we slowly realise Humbert is unreliable, not about actual facts (we could not say if they are accurate or not, since he is the only narrator), but their interpretation. For instance, he depicts Lolita mostly as greedy, vulgar, selfish, insensitive, cheating... but we progressively realise it is largely inaccurate. Hence we question narration itself, down to its style: it is very articulate and humorous, but too much so. Isn't Humbert fooling us, as well as himself, with his neat "Confession" about his otherwise despicable self?

Back to the movie. Kubrick makes two unfortunate major artistic decisions.

1. The movie barely criticises Humbert. Granted, it is not easy to represent unreliable narration on screen, but Kubrick does worse: he adopts Humbert's point of view. Lolita is just a little brat, Charlotte a brainless dragon, Quilty a devilish manipulator. Notably, essential elements about Lolita are omitted or downsized. Lolita feels miserable only once, when she learns about her mother's death, but it is short; in the novel it lasts longer and there are other depictions of her despair. We do not see how sincerely she loves her disabled husband at the end. The tennis coach's important comment saying Lolita is talented but loses because she is "so polite", is discarded. The fact everybody calls Dolores "Lolita", while in the book only Humbert does so, is revealing: his perception of Dolores as a nymphet invades the whole story. Hence characters are not only shallow: they fit Humbert's vision.

Humbert himself is rarely shown committing fiendish acts, as opposed to the novel: Lolita seduces him in the hotel (in the book it is less clear); there are no other innuendos about their sexuality; there is no account about Humbert's plans to rape her (in the book he tries twice, by giving sedatives to Charlotte and then Lolita); he does not blackmail her; there is no indication about his attraction to other young girls, so he almost appears as a person truly in love instead of a paedophile; he just considers shooting Charlotte but quickly dismisses the idea (in the book he comes very close to drowning her); after Charlotte dies he gets drunk (in the book he gloats with joy). Eventually he is not arrested, as if the director's verdict were "not guilty". Granted, there are naturally other omissions, yet the above-mentioned constitute important choices because they exonerate Humbert. Also some alterations, notably concerning sexuality, might have been necessary because of censorship; but then, is it excusable to film such dynamite without the full possibility to do it ethically?

Apart from omissions, the original story is marginally modified in other ways: Quilty's role is expanded and minor differences are introduced (e.g. Lolita is a 14 year-old blonde instead of a 12 year-old brunette). However these changes have no effect on the movie's ethical ambiguities. Critic Greg Jenkins said: "A story originally told from the edge of a moral abyss is fast moving toward safer ground." As a direct consequence, the movie lacks depth. Indirectly, instead of being scrutinised, monstrosity becomes unchallenged, almost acceptable.

2. The movie mainly focuses on action. Kubrick could have gone down a morally perilous path by compensating with other qualities, for instance dark humour or strong themes. However there is little more than a simple account of events without perspective. Artistic direction is straightforward. Social satire is limited. Mental illness is not investigated. The US road trip remains abstract: we see little of the 50,000 km the main characters travel, probably because most was actually shot in England. The few humorous elements are only partly convincing: ironic music is sometimes added; Quilty's character is expanded and provides somewhat funny but unnecessary scenes; humorous lines extracted from the novel lack impact. The multiple sarcastic remarks, wordplays, witty literary references and the intriguing puzzle to find Quilty are mostly discarded. The only scene worth mentioning is when Humbert kills Quilty, which is grotesque enough but far from the novel's level.

Even the tragic dimension is absent, for instance Lolita's above-mentioned despair or the eventual deaths of Lolita, her baby and Humbert (disregarding Quilty's ludicrous death): the atmosphere remains very tame, without asperities. All this emphasises the moral issues mentioned in point 1, since they are not offset by interesting features.

What can be saved in the movie? Acting is excellent, notably James Mason in the lead role and Peter Sellers in three impersonations: himself, a policeman, Dr Zempf (this incidentally inspired the idea to have him play different characters in "Dr Strangelove" two years later). Action unravels seamlessly, despite the fact the last scene where Humbert kills Quilty is placed at the beginning for no valid reason (in the book it is towards the end since narration is strictly chronological). It is sometimes comical. If it can console Kubrick's fans, "Lolita" is arguably his only failure ("Spartacus" being debatable).
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A delicious, adult meditation on youth, obsession and sex.
ags12316 August 2005
This film remains my all-time favorite. It's a delicious, adult meditation on youth, obsession and sex. While not entirely faithful to the novel, it captures the book's spirit and is nonetheless a masterpiece on its own terms. To fully appreciate what Kubrick has done, compare this version to Adrian Lyne's anemic remake.

Kubrick chose his cast wisely for the most part. James Mason conveys both the tormented inner soul and the outwardly polite gentleman with such charm that you simply can't despise him for his treachery. Shelley Winters was never better as the shrill, man-hungry shrew. Sue Lyon is enormously credible in a complex role - physically attractive, childish at times in her behavior, but quietly calculating and manipulative. The weakest link is Peter Sellers, who Kubrick found amusing enough to let him run on too long. Sellers was a brilliant performer, but just not right for this film. As Quilty, he's fine. When masquerading as others, he's mostly intrusive and tends to alter the tone of what's going on.

The need to tread carefully around the censors in 1962 actually works in the film's favor. There's a sophisticated subtlety that counterbalances the lurid subject matter. In fact, I even prefer the edited-for-television version of the scene in which Humbert and Lolita first have sex. Here she merely whispers in his ear before a suggestive fade-out. In the complete version of the film, the scene continues with them discussing a silly game played at summer camp. The less said, the better.

"Lolita" has aged remarkably well. Its topic is relevant today, and the careful craftsmanship that went into this production holds up beautifully. I think it's Kubrick's best film - they tended to get more self-indulgent as time went on. This one's a gem. Not to be overlooked are the aptly provocative title sequence and Nelson Riddle's luscious piano score.
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Humorous, disturbing, and everything in between!
ACitizenCalledKane3 December 2004
I think Stanley Kubrick was the only director who had any ideas of how to tackle a film version of Lolita. I also believe that he was the only director who could have succeeded, and I believe he did succeed. This film was everything I could have expected it to be, and maybe even a little more.

Shelley Winters' performance was wonderful! James Mason delivered a strong effort in a very difficult part to play. Peter Sellers was Peter Sellers, four or five times throughout the movie, but that's Peter Sellers, and that's why I am really starting to admire his work. The real surprise performance in this movie, however, came from Sue Lyon in the title role. Her intensity was incredible. She seemed perfectly natural as a teenage girl enjoying the attention of older men, or just men in general. You could really see the wheels turning in her head as she schemed her way from one situation to the other. Some have criticized that her Lolita was "too old" in comparison to the novel's Lolita. One could make that judgment, however, what twelve year old actress would have been able to provide the emotional depth required for the part? Let's face it, in literary adaptations, some license must be allowed. All in all, I thought it was a very good movie, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the work of Stanley Kubrick and/or Peter Sellers.
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A controversial masterpiece
FrenchEddieFelson26 April 2019
Inspired by the eponymous novel (Vladimir Nabokov, 1955), this film admirably describes the sulfurous relationship between a middle-aged writer and his nymph Dolores Haze, aka Lolita.

By chance, looking for a furnished rental, the professor Humbert Humbert encounters Charlotte Haze and her beloved daughter Dolores. From the very first sight, the professor irrevocably accepts the rental conditions! A triangular relationship settles quickly between 1) an intellectual sensitive to beauty and youth, 2) a desperate widow impressed by this professor, both unable to fight against theirs own obsessive desires, and 3) a manipulative and nonchalant teen. Consecutively to a fatal accident and because of the inquisitive and invasive look of Clare Quilty, the teacher will progressively and ineluctably descend in the depths of the abyss.

James Mason is awesome and monumental. He is also excellently seconded by Sue Lyon, Peter Sellers and Shelley Winters. And Stanley Kubrick is definitely a regular of successful and even improved literary adaptations, with Shining (1980), 2001, A space odyssey (1968), Barry Lyndon (1975), A clockwork orange (1971), The Killing (1956), ...

This movie is truly a masterpiece.
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Both Lolitas are good
Spleen1 September 1999
Someone commented that if you want to acquaint yourself with Nabokov's `Lolita' without actually reading it, the best you can do is to see Adrian Lyne's version. This is surely true. And, I might add, if you want to acquaint yourself with Nabokov's `Lolita' without actually reading it - to hell with you. You don't stand a chance anyway. Humbert's narration cannot possibly make it to the screen in one piece. Kubrick, at least, made no attempt. He even invents his own material, which Lyne is afraid or unwilling to do.

Something about Lyne's authenticity is even shocking. He opens the story in 1947, which is when the story in fact opens - yet everything looks jarringly old-fashioned, whereas Kubrick's indeterminate 1950s setting looks right. The bulk of the story might as well take place in the 1950s as any other time. The crucial point is that the story cannot begin any EARLIER than 1947 - we need a post-war America with motels dotting the landscape. Humbert has little contact with contemporary culture; he only encounters the snippets of music and film that obsess Lolita, and he finds them unendurably vulgar. Kubrick captures this very well. There's this boppy little pop tune we never hear the end of - although most of the time we only hear it subliminally - for the first half of the movie, and it sounds like exactly the kind of tune that drove Humbert up the wall.

Kubrick's cast is a strong one. It's crowned by Peter Sellers as Quilty - and before you complain that we see too much of him, ask yourself what scene featuring Quilty could you possibly want to be removed? Admittedly, since this is 1962, we have a Lolita who is merely sixteen - but maybe this isn't just because it's 1962. After all, the book does two things at once. It makes us understand perfectly why Humbert is attracted to Lolita - we see her through his eyes - while constantly reminding us that Lolita is not someone that we would be attracted to, ourselves. Both are worthy goals, but when it comes time to film the book, the director must make a choice between them. Kubrick picked a genuinely attractive, but still obviously young, Sue Lyon. I can't fault this choice. As for Humbert - well, here Kubrick was actually MORE daring than Lyne was. Humbert Humbert is a sympathetic character who is also calculating, manipulative and - now and then - shockingly brutal. James Mason allows Humbert to be all of these things. This doesn't prevent him from being sympathetic. The story takes care of that.

It comes down to this. What, exactly, does Humbert do that's so wrong? Is it that he has sex with a minor? Considered in itself this is the least of his crimes. What's really wrong is the way he attempts to be Lolita's lover and guardian simultaneously, and, of course, he makes a hash of both jobs. THAT is what's essential to the story of Lolita, and that's what Kubrick transfers to the screen at least as well as Lyne.

Having said that I must add that both versions are very good. They're also different enough to scarcely even be competitors. See them one after the other, if you like.
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One of the finest films of The Sixties
dantbrooks14 August 2003

Kubrik's version of Nabokov's tale of a middle-aged professor's self-destructive obsession with a young schoolgirl. Making a film that dealt with underage sex was considered impossible in 1962 due to the strict censorship regulations. Kubrik manages to get round this by merely alluding to sexual encounters and subtle wordplay and symbolism creeps into several scenes. He also raises the girl's age from 12 in the novel to 14 in the film. Lolita is also rich in Kubrik's trademark dark humour.

The three central characters of the novel are all portrayed more than adequately in the film; James Mason as the smitten professor, Shelley Winters as the suburban widow with pretensions of culture and Sue Lyons as the young nymphet. However, it is Sellars' performance as the creepy eccentric Clare Quilty (a relatively minor character in the book) that steals the show and, ultimately, makes the film. The opening scene (which is the ending of the film) is an outstanding testament to his talent and versatility. The said scene gives the film the same "circular structure" used by David Lean in "Brief Encounter".

My favourite moments include; Quilty's re-introduction to the film at the school's summer ball as the camera pans across the dancefloor and subtly reveals a look of comic ambivalence on his face as he dances with his lover, Humbert awkwardly trying to book the only remaining hotel-room at the police convention and Humbert again trying to teach the cynical Lolita the joys of Edgar Allen Poe's poetry.

I thoroughly recommend this film. My only complaint is the length - the final third seemed to drag a bit.
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Tasteful and Entertaining
drosse6731 August 2001
Not the two words that came to mind when I first read the book. This movie nicely handles the taboo subject matter and is tremendously funny as well. Peter Sellers was warming up for his triumph in Dr. Strangelove, Shelly Winters gave her best performance, and James Mason made us feel his pain. As Lolita, Sue Lyon is convincing although Kubrick makes her character a bit older (probably to satisfy the censors, which still slapped this with an X rating originally, much to my surprise). The movie could play on TV today with no edits. I have not seen the 1997 remake but can only imagine, given its director with a reputation of going over the top, that it's not as classy and tasteful as this one. Since this was made in 1962, the risque elements from the book were left to our imagination. And the movie scores highly because of it. The movie's story is stuck in the '60s (that bubblegum music, which played during Lolita's early scenes, will stick with you), and if you are bored with the story, or cannot believe what you're seeing, you can always get a culture lesson: Hula hoops, malt shops, pseudo intellectuals, faulty cots and gas stations where they still pump your gas.
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Brilliant--not really the book--but still brilliant
middleburg10 January 2004
What a surreal, dreamlike world Stanley Kubrick creates with this intriguing film! The book, a recognized 20th century classic, is at times disturbing, hysterically funny, uncomfortably erotic, and heartbreakingly sad. The film, made in the 60s, captures many of the same feelings generated by the book--but the censorship

of the time could only allow Kubrick to suggest the more intimate and erotic

aspects of the book--which he slyly succeeds in doing. It is hard to believe now, but when this film was released, it was considered to be unbelievably

provacative and absolutely for adults only.

The movie becomes its own artistic statement---Kubrick doesn't merely try to

recreate the scenes and storyline of the book--although much of it is there--but he uses the period music, speech, clothes and mannerisms to create his own

imaginative and fascinating world. At the same time, we sure do end up caring about the characters. Within the exceptional cast, note the special performance Shelly Winters gives--her character is at once funny and so achingly sad and

pathetic. This is a real tour-de-force of acting. In several instances we go from laughing at her to really disliking her, to feeling so very sorry for her. She creates a truly memorable character.'

The film ranks right up there with all of the spectacfular films Kubrick made during his amazing and very singular career---each of his films was so

distinctive--and Lolita is one of the most distinctive of them all.
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All in the Environment
tedg27 February 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Lolita is one of the most remarkable books in the world. It has lovely language in many different ways. But that's not what makes it novel. The cleverness, the art is in the shifting stance of the narrator -- sometimes delusional, often hyperdramatic, continuously obsessed with unusual elements of the world. You never know where you stand.

Almost impossible to translate to film, which of course is why Kubrick was attracted to the project. He had done `Killer's Kiss,' which experiments with surpressing the narrative to the cinematic vision. Then he got roped into `Spartacus,' which he hated. It focused on the characters, and the story was overly expository and preachy.

So how to do it? He has to find a place to move the slipperiness of narrative, and he selects to give this job to Sellers. Everything depends on the positioning of the characters. The wife is played by an actress that has the same consciousness in the world as in the film. The kid is a loss, but since we couldn't have a twelveyear old who seduces several, the role is placeholder only.

The whole revolves around us believing that Sellers is a sort of god in the machine. This is a noble experiment, which almost works. Sellers introduces himself as Spartacus from behind the curtain. Then we see how he has manipulated the last several years. He is turned into a filmmaker (to enhance the selfreference), who entices poor Loli into making a film, presumably this one.

I think it may be a long time before viewers can fully appreciate Kubrick's experiments in shifting the story to the vision by clever narrative folds. It all starts here.
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An unsparring and beautiful film
Blade_Le_Flambeur17 May 2003
One year after Lolita was released, Stanley Kubrick cut his ties with producer James B. Harris after starting Doctor Strangelove., thus only making his own films. Lolita is Kubrick's apparent transition from making money type of pictures (Paths of Glory) to art (Doctor Strangelove. It seems like Humbert and Lolita are the only sane characters while everyone else is sane. As the troubled Humbert, James Mason shines, turning in a performance of emotional capacity that even generates sympathy for him. As Lolita's oddball and energetic mother, Shirley Winters also does very well; creating a sort of hate for her. Sue Lynon plays Lolita with a nice sort of childness, yet at the same time she shows a sort of maturity not usually shown done by an actress of that age. And of course there's Peter Sellers as the eccentric Clarence Quilty, who's downright hilarious and very strange. The script provides fleshed out characters, and at the same time not always letting the viewer know what's going on. Stanley Kubrick's direction is beautiful and cold, letting the viewer have emotions instead of telling them what to feel. Stanley Kubrick doesn't come back to these proffesionall and well- spoken characters until Barry Lyndon (1975). Unfortunately, this film ends up getting repeating and dull. The photography provides a sort of gloss to it that few films have, and also the editing is rapid- fire. 9.5/10
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An unbiased review of the worst Kubrick film I've seen
tonysharp17 May 2008
Considering how brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon were, it's kind of hard to imagine Stanley Kubrick making a bad film. Unfortunately, throughout his prolific career, he did make a couple of clunkers, and Lolita is definitely one of them.

The comedy was misplaced and unfunny, the creepiness was corny and uncreepy, and the overall mood was as dry as sandpaper. The deepest, and the most artistic, scene in the entire film was the introduction. Aside from that, barely anything was impressive or accessible enough to draw me in. For most of the 2 1/2 hours, I watched each scene lumber by, and barely cared for what I was seeing.

Why was Clare Quilty such a front and center character? Was it because Peter Sellers agreed to play the part, and they wanted to see as much of him as possible? Is that why they chose to over-develop his character, give him more lines than anyone, have him play two characters, and stray completely from the poetic chords that made the book so moving? And why was Humbert Humbert's background so under-explained? If you had never read the book, the deeper reasons behind his sickness, and everything else, would be mostly unknown.

The story and the character development jumped about with hardly any subtly. For example: Humbert, out of the clear blue, begins to rant about his controlling wife, and a few moments later, he contemplates on ways to kill her with a gun. There were no hints about him having murderous tendencies within the story's chronology, but all of a sudden he does? And there is no sexual tension or chemistry between Humbert and Lolita; you can barely tell that they have a relationship at all. Maybe the 1960s censors are to blame for this. Nevertheless, the relationship still feels very shallow, unbelievable, and unjustified. Why would a beautiful young girl want to have sex with a man who was as old and as ugly as James Mason? This is never explained.

As a longtime Kubrick fan, I'm not afraid to say that this film downright sucked. I only give it a 5 out of 10 because it wasn't entirely awful. There were moments when Kubrick's trademark directing and cinematography sparkled through, but, overall, I was extremely disappointed.
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Best Lolita ever
moviola-216 January 1999
An excellent film that has Kubrik's name stamped all over it.

We see how the skillful Director is able to translate and adapt the book to reach a bigger audience and become a timeless Classic.

Rather than worry about truly reflecting the book on the silver screen, Kubrik changes and experiments with the screenplay to obtain a refreshing, intellectual and fun version of the boring Nabokov's novel.

The Master of Directors shows also great skill in his precise direction of the well selected star cast.Who would challenge that Sellers is precisely the hyperactive, witty character who could undoubtedly seduct a young teen. Could there be a better fit to Lolita's mother than Shelley Winters, who conveys so well the impression of being the desperate, lonely widow?

Even James Mason IS the perfect sexually repressed, intellectual pervert, who tries to hide so well his persistent, hypocritical thoughts and desires behind that mask of academic honorability.

In conclusion, this is not a replacement for the book. It is also true that to bring the book to life a boring multi-part mini-series would be necessary. This is, however, a better screenplay than the one we saw on the 1997 version.
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'Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.'
camcmahon16 March 2005
Having just read Vladmir Nabokov's 'Lolita' for Uni, I instantly wanted to see Stanley Kubrick's rendering of the story. Overall I was impressed by what he had done, but I felt some parts of the film didn't quite work. Firstly, although i think Sellers is a great actor and I love him in everything I've seen him in I just couldn't get comfortable with his role here. When reading the book I had a totally different vision of Quilty, so I found it hard to readjust to Seller's performance. Although his acting is great and hilarious as always, it just didn't fit into the plot for me.

I thought James Mason was good, and he played the gradual disintegration of Humbert Humbert with an intensity which i enjoyed. However, i felt that the film did not reveal as much of his character as the novel portrays. The name Humbert Humbert suggests two sides to his nature, and I felt that too much emphasis was placed on his suave and intelligent side, and not enough time was devoted to his burning desire and passion for Lolita. I particularly missed one of my favourite lines that was not used in film, 'Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.' Although i haven't seen the film in a long time, I think Jeremy Irons from the 1997 version is a much better actor for the role.

Sue Lyon made a great Lolita, although she did tremble on the line between looking young enough for the role and looking too old for it. Still, there were times in the film where she looked so young the odious nature of Humbert's act really struck me. Speaking of this, I felt the film skipped past too much of what really went on between Humbert and Lolita. Although Nabokov similarly leaves this to the reader's imagination, I thought a little more could have been done to stress the nature of Humbert and Lolita's relationship.

Shelley Winters was brilliant, and her acting added so much to the character of Charlotte Haze. I thought she was wonderful; she really fleshed the character out.

Overall, I did enjoy watching this film despite the small niggles I had with it, but I view it as something separate to the novel. In this way it's a more enjoyable experience. I'm looking forward to seeing the 1997 version of the film again (I saw it once years ago!), as I think it is a movie that will benefit much more having been made in a time of a more permissive society, allowing more creative freedom in what can be shown.
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A failed adaptation of a classic novel
Mr. Gore4 September 1998
The tag line, "How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?" seems appropriate because, in short, the answer is that they didn't. Kubrick, for all his touted genius, didn't come close to capturing the book on film. It hardly seems to have much to do with Nabokov at all, instead being off the subject and its own unique creature. Although some films can (and should) be viewed as divorced from their source material, I find it difficult to regard this production without comparing it to Nabokov's creation. I wonder why Kubrick interpreted it this way. Putting aside the possible controversy a faithful adaptation may have caused, Kubrick chose to emphasize the satirical elements and update it to 1960s culture. Of course, Lolita is aged a few years to make the relationship less shocking. As played by Sue Lyon (who looks much older), she comes off as a typical '60s teeny-bopper heroine. Kubrick seems to want to parody other movies of this period and the activities of that society and set. The music here is atrocious, especially the annoying love theme, which resembles swinging go-go music of the era.

The story wanders all over the place, hardly devoting enough time to central relationship between Humbert Humbert and Lolita. The plot is slight and unfocused, preferring to diverge off into subplots that distract from the main story and themes. When the occasional scene does follow the book (many occur in a strange, seemingly random-chosen fashion), it appears almost jarringly out of place with the rest of the action. By incorporating too many elements of diffuse black humor, the comic and poignant obsession angle is considerably diluted. The film is also hampered by poor performances by all the major players save Peter Sellers. James Mason is especially weak as Humbert, Shelley Winters is unequivocally annoying, and Sue Lyon is a completely uninteresting disappointment. Sellers' character of Quilty is allowed to dominate the movie so much, I questioned whether this was supposed to be his story. The Quilty character, which was essentially a minor through pervasive presence in the novel, is brought to the forefront here, and Sellers improvises wildly to create a particularly overshadowing creep. As a movie on its own, perhaps the Kubrick version works on some level, but it fails as an adaptation of Nabokov's novel.
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Classic version of "Lolita", Sue Lyon may have been playing herself.
TxMike28 November 2002
I was a senior in high school in 1962 when Kubrick's "Lolita" was in theaters. I did not see it back then. Now, having lived for an additional 4 decades, I can appreciate it more anyway. The genius in Kubrick's direction is to let us, the audience, see clearly what is going on, while the players cannot. Sue Lyon played the coy Lolita so well, but when you read her biography and see that she had a series of short, failed marriages after this film was made, you have to wonder if her performance was so good because she was playing a character not far from herself. But the real star is Peter Sellers, playing Clare Quilty. Overall a fine movie depicting how unreasonable and blind obsession can cloud the thinking of otherwise reasonable and educated people. Here it was a man, but we certainly have not cornered that fault.

After viewing this movie, I read Nabakov's book. It is much more revealing (no surprise there) as to how Humbert made an elaborate justification in his mind that is was OK for a man in his late 30s to have a sexual relationship with a girl in the 10 to 14 year old range, finally having one with Lo when she was 12. It of course is much more explicit in describing their passion and activities. Now I too am a bit surprised that the book was ever made into a movie.
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The book's better.
plasmawisp663314 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The primary appeal of Nabokov's Lolita is the narrative style, and what it reveals about Humbert as a character. When entering the medium of film, I would say that it's almost impossible to convey the entire character of Humbert without the narration. Unfortunately, and it pains me to say this, Kubrick didn't even come close. It's most easily understood that this movie got all of the plot line of Lolita, but none of the substance behind it.

This movie focuses on only one real role of Humbert and that is Humbert the father. In the book, it is impossible to picture Humbert as JUST a father; he is also a justified pedophile, a nymphologist, a cultured intellectual, and most importantly, a murderer. Nabokov left the murder scene for last in the novel in order to demonstrate a build-up of malaise in Humbert. When Kubrick put the murder scene first, it makes it easy to forget by the time you reach the conclusion of the film that Humbert is capable of murder.

Not only is the development of Humbert neglected, but so is Lolita's. When we encounter Lolita as a pregnant 18-year-old in the book, Nabokov paints the scene with Lolita being a much more mature and developed character. Kubrick, however, portrays her as the same 12-year-old we spent the movie with.

I also can't blame everything on Kubrick. Cultural trends at the time of the movie didn't exactly allow for the full exposition of ALL the vulgar subject matter contained in the novel. Quite frankly, the "sex with minors" theme was so kept under the surface, I probably would have completely missed it had I not read the novel first. Lolita's a ballsy story put on the silver screen, and it takes a filmmaker with guts to even think of making it. I thought someone like Kubrick would be that kind of film maker, but its possible that he was just 20 or 30 years too early when we made this film.

The movie itself is completely average, and not anything to shout about. However, context is important. With knowledge that this is based on an unforgettable piece of literature, it greatly degrades the movie. Read the book folks.
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For those who wish to burn the book or worship it, we have a solid picture here.
GiraffeDoor30 April 2019
A straight forward and intriguing drama that takes Nabokov's postmodern exercise and reduces it too a simple (but elegant) story of a man who wants something more from life and his struggle to get it.

Mason plays Humbert with a suavity and charm that belies a vulnerable core that is much more sympathetic than the sociopath of the original novel.

Done in a cool, almost off-hand yet stylish fashion that is not above getting seductive, it is at once gleeful and eerie in its smouldering inter-generational romance. it's easy to root for Humbert as he tries to pursue the forbidden fruit in a petty bourgeois purgatory and the effect is subtle, effective and never lascivious.

The sultry performance of Lolita is presented with a sophistication and feather touch that makes her the centre of the picture but appropriately not the focal point.

As good an adaption as you could hope for that honours the original story but makes it its own. Whether the premise entices you or repulses you there is much to like here.

I wish Kubrick had stuck to just directing other people's screenplays. That's where his talent lies. Oh well.
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Nothing Like You've Heard - Nothing, Period.
ccthemovieman-118 May 2006
This was supposed to be so sexual and so controversial, and I can see why the "controversy" with an older man getting sexually attracted and involved with a teenager but there is very sexuality in this movie....just implied, and very little of anything happens in this film.

Sue Lyon, in her first shot, is very alluring lying on her side in a bikini but after that she has the appearance of any other good-looking teen and nothing if men are looking to be titillated by this film, go elsewhere.

In fact, an annoying and shrill Shelly Winters is seen quite a bit, too much so rather than Lyon. Peter Sellers, with an American accent, is good.

Overall, this movie is Boring, yes - with a capital 'B." People today would laugh at any of this being called "controversial." Just because it had that label and Stanley Kubrick directed, people automatically overrate this movie terribly. Don't believe me? Go ahead: rent it. Don't say you weren't warned.
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Kubrick in a subtle mood
Atavisten30 June 2005
The excellent novel turned into a screenplay by Vladimir Nabokov himself is one of the best movies Kubrick did. Due to censorship some things were let out, the better for it I say. Sue Lyon as Lo leaves nothing to be desired, her confidence and rebellion is convincing. James Mason is perfect as Humbert Humbert, his way of calculating, concealing his intentions and the way he tries to control Lo's life struggles its best with the sympathies you get for his lonely soul.

And Peter Sellers provides the comedic element as well as suspense. When confronting Humbert at the hotel it was almost as tense as when Rugosjin confronted Raskolnikov in 'Crime and Punishment'.

Kubrick shows his mastering of storytelling here. We don't need background on Humbert as we see his intentions in his actions. And what a way to start the movie!
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Peter Sellers makes the film.
HenryHextonEsq31 January 2002
How wrong "The_Wood" is about this film... The previous commentator's jibe of "dull performances" so completely misses the mark I do not balk at laughter! To think he was watching the same film as I, is an odd thought, or more pointedly, the same magnificent performance from Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty. While I admit the film isn't entirely successful, I would say it is at least reasonable in most regards. Well shot and composed by Kubrick, I don't see how anyone could doubt its mounting. The opening scene, with Sellers riffing off Mason extraordinarily, is one of the greatest, oddest openings to a film ever. All sorts of proto-Pinteresque psychological mind games are deployed in this oddest of "confrontation" scenes. Maybe, one might say, the film doesn't generally match this inspired quality in the main body of the picture. The scenes which unquestionably do invariably involve Sellers. His portrayal and embellishment of Nabokov's more minor player, Quilty, is an outstanding success; for all the magnetic subtlety of "Being There" and high-octane comic mastery of "Dr Strangelove" I feel this performance to be the most magnetic, unnerving and ingenious of Sellers' career, such as I have seen it. The scenes between Sellers and Mason, the incalculably more sedate, classical actor, are like eras and mindsets shifting, uncomfortably and compellingly. Sellers plays Quilty as an amoral jokester, a daunting genius alter-ego of Humbert, uninhibited and unrestrained in his game-playing. I ought to make mention of the party scene early on, with Quilty dancing diffidently and cynically with some dame or other. Moments such as this scene in the film are pure acting subtlety demonstrated by Sellers, and he practically maintains the compelling interest embodied by this character throughout. Wonderful. Who could forget, or indeed ignore as the two previous reviewers have, the sublimely tense and comic scene at the hotel with Sellers' and Quilty's "policeman" probing Humbert in a simultaneously precise and absurd manner. Where some critics have said Sellers' Quilty is over-used, I would say quite the opposite; he could have been used even more, although the irregularity and unpredictability of his appearances is tangibly effective.

Mason is dependable as Humbert, and this mere "dependability" proves perhaps insufficient in a film dominated by one of the finest performances. The character's passions and motivations are quelled rather than exacerbated by Mason's mannered English gentleman playing of the part. However, his bearing and style of acting prove an irresistible counterpoint to Sellers. Kubrick evidently realized, on set, Sellers' genius for both precise comedic timing and subtle character acting, and rightly indulged these attributes. Other players in Nabokov/Kubrick/Sellers' comedic human pyschodrama are a mixture. Shelley Winters, an often unremarkable actress, portrays a hilariously unlovely lady very well. A victim, as in the majestic "The Night of the Hunter", Winters proves an elusively cursory actress. The scene where Mason is in the bath, and she subsequently dies, without the "aid" of Humbert is a master class in comedic acting from Mason and Winters. Sue Lyon, importantly, is maybe not quite the Lolita that is required. She's certainly alluring, but never quite the right mix of seductive innocence and dispensed nonchalance. She plays the part with maybe an over-emphasis on desultory petulance. Full marks, though, to Kubrick for the influential shots when Humbert sees her for the first time; brilliantly done. It is however, in the final analysis, a mistake, or cop-out, of casting to have Sue Lyon, a girl of around sixteen, rather than someone of the age Nabokov specifies in the novel. It misses, or rather skirts around, the point of "Lolita" somewhat.

For all the film's faults, it's an entertaining, provocative (more in the sense of Humbert's guilt than in his desires) drama with an irreverent, thoughtful edge provided by the frighteningly good Sellers. As a film it is far from "obsolete", as user Hugh comments, it is an essential, if flawed adaptation of a literary classic. And I'm not being in the least bit "sentimental" in saying that.

Rating:- ****/*****
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Never has there been a more deeply unlikeable character than Professor Humbert Humbert
s-neaverson17 July 2012
Lolita begins emphatically, with an engrossing scene between two heavyweight actors as James Mason turns up invited into Peter Seller's house.

Unfortunately, the film never lives up to it's electrifying opening and it's a constant downhill trek after that. The film sags and moors as it struggles to justify it's ridiculous plot turns and unbearable character.

The film has a hugely controversial premise, focusing on a professor's obsession with a 14 year old girl. As the film progresses and his desire for her increases, we never really understand why, his obsession is never duly justified or explained. Lolita seems to exude no magical qualities and the only conclusion is the professor must be a paedophile. The fact he never acts kind to anyone and turns to acts of cruelty and degradation doesn't help his cause.

Due to strict censoring, Stanley Kubrick, the director, could not include some of the scenes in the book which help to explain their relationship. Instead he must turn to innuendo and implied acts, though these never really have any effect. Obviously this wasn't Kubrick's fault, but it still falls to him that the film never truly reaches out to you.

Lolita is a film with no emotional backbone. It follows a deeply unlikeable character in a quest for something we don't ever want him to have. Who wants to see that?
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A different story
cj135811 August 2013
It's a good movie, actors' performance is decent, jokes are funny and so on... But it's not that "Lolita" I was desiring to see. It's just an ordinary movie, not that thing I expected to be made by such a master as Kubrick. We watch a very usual story with a bit of suddenness. Moreover, it is a very different story.

Lolita's attitude to Humbert is too positive, she is kind of cold to him in the book, if speak about her in a few words. Her actions seem illogical in the movie. Especially the final one, that very disappearance with the "uncle". Seventeen years old Lolita, aka Mrs. Schiller, doesn't differ from the "previous version" anyhow, even though she was a different person in the end of the book, after all this sadness and hardship she mentioned. I remember that very moment in the novel when Lolita calls Humbert "honey" during their last talk. It was kind of flash of warm and joyful light for me then. I nearly felt it. THAT was HOW she changed. All in one word - that's the power of Nabokov's pen or whatever he wrote with. Movie awakens no feeling that can be named similar. At least Lolita's character doesn't.

Humbert was a handsome man, a gentleman of Old Good Times in the book. He was attractive in many ways. And he was confident, and he was nearly almighty with his knowledge, charm and abilities. Movie's Humbert evokes only pity. I don't say Mason is bad, it's just not his character or his strange view of the role.

Charlotta is all wrong in the movie. She's this kind of nearly village woman with her poor manners and behavior. She acted in a different way in the book, she was a woman of different qualities, who wouldn't scream and shout as mad in presence of anyone she wants to have good relationships with, for example.

Plot is cut, events are mixed. I can't understand why Kubrick decided to make a movie by this novel. He failed in bringing "Lolita" to the screen, yet he succeeded in making a good film.
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