Saturday, January 8, 2011


Lolita is an early film of Stanley Kubrick, and it feels the most like a typical Hollywood production of the time of anything I've seen of his, although you can still tell it's his work. For one thing, it's subject matter that most directors of the period wouldn't even dream of touching, and just enough of his style peeks through the traditional cinematography. It's probably too long, and it feels like a very compromised version of what he probably wanted to make, leading me to think he probably should have waited at least a decade. It's still a pretty good movie though, making great use of its cast and telling a very controversial story without getting too specific about it.

James Mason plays Humbert Humbert, a man who movies in with and even marries a woman played by Shelley Winters after falling in love with her teenage daughter, played by Sue Lyons. Peter Sellers also stars as the eccentric writer Clare Quilty, and watching him be Peter Sellers was often the highlight of the movie. His real significance to the story is not made clear for a long time, but right from the opening scene with him in a drunken daze, the performance is both a comedic and dramatic triumph. Just a completely bizarre individual played with a lot of skill by a singular actor. Lyons is also pretty darn good, looking older than she actually was and having the screen presence of an adult despite her youth. The story doesn't work if you don't buy her as something more than your standard underage girl, and she pulls it off. Humbert is sometimes a hard man to relate to, but he becomes a viable main character despite some very serious personal issues.

Lolita manages to be interesting the whole way through despite the main driving force of the plot being only suggested the entire time. It's a delicate balance to have what's really going on be known to the audience so they understand why everything else is happening, while avoiding crossing whatever line they couldn't have back then. It's sort of weird to see this kind of plot filmed in such a classic way, and it again makes me wonder what it would have been like if Kubrick had made it in full auteur mode. Either way, it gets his stylist career back on track after the Kirk Douglas-heavy Spartacus and opened the door for his next film, also starring Peter Sellers, which is my favorite of his and one of my favorites of all time. Lolita is really not Kubrick's best work, but it's plenty watchable enough if you want to see more.

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