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It's love at first sight for international scholar Humbert Humbert when he meets all-American girl Lolita Haze. But it's not their different nationalities or cultural backgrounds that stand between him and romance. It's the socially unacceptable age difference between them - the middle-aged academic has fallen for a nymphet. As he tries to build a life with his beloved Lolita despite opposition from her culture-vulture mother and a conniving rival for her body, Humbert becomes more and more intent on realizing his fantasy.CAST AND CREW
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: James B. Harris
Screenplay: Valdimir Nabokov
Based on his novel
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Editing: Anthony Harvey
Art Direction: Bill Andrews
Music: Nelson Riddle
Cast: James Mason (Humbert Humbert), Sue Lyon (Lolita Haze), Shelley Winters (Charlotte Haze), Peter Sellers (Clare Quilty), Marianne Stone (Vivian Darkbloom), Roberta Shore (Lorna), Lois Maxwell (Nurse Mary Lore)
Why LOLITA is Essential
Because of the novel's ironic depiction of pedophilia, Lolita was considered unfilmable. When Stanley Kubrick and Vladimir Nabokov came up with a screenplay that could pass the Production Code Administration and the Legion of Decency, it struck a new blow for on-screen permissiveness and opened the door to other cinematic treatments of sexual perversion.
Lolita was the first of Stanley Kubrick's films on which he exercised total artistic control, a demand he routinely made after his experience working on Spartacus (1960).
As in most of Kubrick's films, Lolita demonstrates the tendency of human error to destroy even the best-laid plans. Humbert fails to keep Lolita, just as the thieves in The Killing (1956) fail to make themselves rich, the title character in Spartacus fails to free the Roman Empire's slaves and the title character in Barry Lyndon (1975) fails to become a wealthy and influential aristocrat.
Kubrick first revealed his talent for brittle, edgy comedy of manners with Lolita, thereby paving the way for the political satire of his next film Dr. Strangelove (1964), and offering a fascinating insight into such later films as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Barry Lyndon.
For the first time, Kubrick employed first-person narration (delivered by James Mason as Humbert Humbert), a device he would use to great effect again in A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon.
Lolita was the first Stanley Kubrick film shot in England, which would become the travel-phobic director's home base for the rest of his life. Being based far from Hollywood helped the director retain his independence as a filmmaker.
Both James Mason and Peter Sellers benefited from the positive critical response to their work in Lolita. Sellers would continue to capitalize on his success, which added to his reputation as a comic genius through the '70s. For Mason, the boost would last until his disastrous 1964 divorce, which left him desperate to accept any well-paying role to keep up alimony and child-support payments.
Kubrick and Sellers developed a rapport on Lolita that would lead to their teaming on the director's next picture, Dr. Strangelove.
by Frank Miller
Thanks to the novel and the film, the name "Lolita" has become a common term applied to sexually precocious young women.
Vladimir Nabokov recorded excerpts from Lolita for a spoken word recording released in 1959.
In 1962, Sue Lyon had a hit single with "Yah Yah Lolita," a version of Bob Harris' "Theme From Lolita" that combined a Latin instrumental with her repeated "Yah yahs."
In the original Beach Party (1963), Frankie Avalon thinks Annette Funicello has a crush on older college professor Robert Cummings. Funicello's character is named Dolores, which is Lolita's given name.
The descriptions of filmmaking and filmmakers in Nabokov's 1969 novel Ada were largely inspired by his experiences writing the adaptation of Lolita in Hollywood. One sequence in the book was inspired by Marilyn Monroe's romance with co-star Yves Montand, which the Nabokovs witnessed at a Hollywood party.
A musical version of the book, Lolita, My Love, opened for a pre-Broadway tryout in Philadelphia in 1971. John Barry and Alan Jay Lerner wrote the songs, with Humbert Humbert's numbers in the style of Henry Higgins' songs in My Fair Lady. The producers tried unsuccessfully to cast Richard Burton in the lead, but he was not available. Instead the role went to British actor John Neville (best known as "The Well-Manicured Man" on The X-Files). Leonard Frey played Clare Quilty, while Dorothy Loudon won the best notices for her performance as Charlotte Haze. Denise Nickerson played the title role. The show closed out of town at a loss of $900,000, but a bootleg recording of one of the Boston performances is now a collector's edition. Shirley Bassey recorded the song "Going, Going, Gone" and Robert Goulet recorded "The Broken-Promise Land of Fifteen." In later years, critics have suggested that the show was far from an unqualified disaster.
Vladimir Nabokov published his screenplay in 1974 as Lolita: A Screenplay.
Award-winning playwright Edward Albee wrote a dramatic adaptation of Lolita that debuted on Broadway in 1981. Donald Sutherland played Humbert, with Clive Revill as Quilty, Shirley Stoler (of The Honeymoon Killers, 1970) as Charlotte and Blanche Baker, whose mother Carroll had done her own bit for underaged sexuality in Elia Kazan's 1956 Baby Doll, played the title role. As "A Certain Gentleman" Ian Richardson narrated by reading portions from the original novel. The critics savaged the production, and it closed after 12 performances.
In 1988, the Modern Library named Lolita the fourth greatest English-language novel of the 20th century, behind Ulysses, The Great Gatsby and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
The 1989 adult film Behind You All the Way is a soft-core remake of Lolita.
Lolita became an opera in 1992, when a version by Soviet composer R. Schedrin debuted in Sweden. He took the opera to Russia in 2006.
Director Adrian Lyne remade Lolita in 1997 with Jeremy Irons as Humbert, Frank Langella as Quilty, Melanie Griffith as Charlotte and Dominique Swain in the title role. The producers took pains to promote the film not as a remake of Kubrick's version, but as a return to the original novel. Although made at a time of greater on-screen permissiveness, a lawyer was on the set during the filming of the love scenes to make sure nothing was shot that could have led to prosecution; this was partly due to more stringent laws about child pornography. Even so, producers could not find distribution in the U.S. and the film premiered on the Showtime cable network. Lolita received mixed reviews, with many critics complaining that in attempting to be literally true to the novel, the filmmakers had lost its spirit.
Steve Martin's 1998 short story collection Pure Drivel includes the story "Lolita at Fifty," suggesting what the character might have been like as a middle-aged woman.
Pia Pera retold the story from the girl's viewpoint in Lo's Diary, a 2002 novel that reveals Lolita to be a sadistic user.
Russian director Victor Sobchak wrote a dramatic adaptation of Lolita set in modern day England. It debuted there in 2003.
When Lolita first appeared in print in the U.S. the Cincinnati Public Library refused to buy it, and the town of Lolita, TX, almost changed its name to Jackson.
by Frank Miller
Made for $1.9 million, Lolita grossed $4.5 million in 1962, making it the year's 12th highest grossing film. U.S. video rentals have reached $3.7 million.
The money with which Kubrick paid for the rights to Lolita came from his director's fee for Paths of Glory (1957) and compensation for six months he and Calder Willingham had spent working on the script for One-Eyed Jacks (1961) before Marlon Brando decided to direct the film himself.
Stanley Kubrick prepared for Lolita while shooting Spartacus (1960) in Spain. Brought in at the last minute to replace Anthony Mann, Kubrick was primarily a director for hire on the film, supervising the actors and setting up shots but forced to follow Dalton Trumbo's screenplay closely. He dealt with the frustration of working that way by developing the supposedly unfilmable novel for the screen.
Kubrick suggested that Shelley Winters read the novel before meeting with Vladimir Nabokov to earn his approval for the role of Charlotte. At the time, she was campaigning for future president John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy noticed what she was reading on the platform, he suggested she use a brown-paper cover so as not to jeopardize his election chances.
When he was considering buying the novel's rights, Kubrick asked the Production Code Administration if they would be more open to a film version if it were revealed at the end that Humbert and Lolita had married in a state with a lower age of consent. When they agreed, he went ahead with the purchase.
Kubrick also approached John Trevelyan, head of the British Board of Film Censors, for advice on how to beat the book's censorship problems. He suggested that it might work "if it had the mood of Greek tragedy."
When Humbert Humbert asks Clare Quilty who he is at the film's opening, Peter Sellers wraps himself in a bed sheet and says, "...I'm Spartacus, have you come to free the slaves or something?" The line is a reference to Kubrick's previous film.
Sue Lyon's famous heart-shaped sunglasses only appear in the film's poster and publicity shots. On screen, she wore cat's-eye glasses.
Vladimir Nabokov originally planned to make a cameo appearance in the film holding a butterfly net. In real life, he is a noted collector and has included butterfly collecting in some of his books.
With the success of Lolita, Nabokov was offered the chance to adapt Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust to the screen, but he couldn't see a way for it to be successfully adapted. The screen version eventually was written by Waldo Salt.
Memorable Quotes from LOLITA
"I'm not accusing you, Captain, but it's sort of absurd the way people invade this house without even knocking." -- Peter Sellers, as Clare Quilty, dealing with the intrusion of James Mason, as Humbert Humbert.
"Quilty, I want you to concentrate -- you're going to die. Try to understand what is happening to you." -- Mason, as Humbert Humbert, preparing to shoot Sellers, as Clare Quilty.
"Oh M'sieur, if what you're needing is peace and quiet, I can assure you you couldn't get more peace anywhere." -- Shelley Winters, as Charlotte Haze, showing her home to Mason, as Humbert.
"You know, Monsieur, I really believe that it's only in the romance languages that, uh, one is able to really relate in a mature fashion." -- Winters, as Charlotte Haze, trying to impress Mason.
"My flowers win prizes around here! They're the talk of the neighborhood. Voila!... My yellow roses. My - daughter....I could offer you a comfortable home, a sunny garden, a congenial atmosphere, my cherry pies." -- Winters, as Charlotte, trying to clinch the deal.
"What was the decisive factor? Uh, my garden?"
"It think it was your cherry pies." -- Winters asking Mason why he chose her home.
"You're going to take my Queen!"
"That is my intention." -- Winters and Mason playing chess as Sue Lyon, as Lolita Haze, wanders into view.
"Lolita. Diminutive of Dolores, 'The Tears and the Roses.'" -- Sellers, as Quilty.
"Wednesday she's having a cavity filled by your Uncle Ivor."
"I know, he's a wicked old man." -- Winters and Sellers, in an exchange the Production Code Administration tried to cut.
"Shouldn't life be for the living? What think you? You see, I'm a strongly emotional woman. Very strongly emotional. Oh, don't be afraid of hurting me...Take me in your arms! Oh, I can't live in the past, not any more Hum, not any more." -- Winters, proposing to Mason.
"We had a wonderful evening. Your mother created a magnificent spread." -- Mason, on his evening with Winters.
"What drives me insane is the twofold nature of this nymphet, of every nymphet perhaps, this mixture in my Lolita of tender, dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity. I know it is madness to keep this journal, but it gives me a strange thrill to do so. And only a loving wife could decipher my microscopic script." -- Mason's narration.
"He is a writer and he is not to be disturbed."
"Seig heil!" -- Winters and Lyon, the latter as Lolita Haze, arguing over Mason.
"Hum, you just touch me and I...I...I go as limp as a noodle. It scares me."
"Yes, I know the feeling." -- Winters, trying to seduce Mason, in another exchange almost censored.
"The Haze woman...the cow...the obnoxious Mama...the brainless baba...Well, the stupid Haze is no longer your dupe....You're a monster. You're a disgusting, despicable, loathsome...fraud. Get out of my way...I'm leaving here today. You can have all of it. But you are never gonna see that miserable brat again!" -- Winters, after reading Mason's diary.
"There's this man saying you've been killed, Charlotte." -- Mason to Winters' locked door after she has been run down by a car
"CAMP CLIMAX FOR GIRLS - Drive Carefully." -- Sign at Lolita's summer camp.
"I get carried away you know, being so normal and everything. I get sorta carried away, you know, being so normal and everything." -- Sellers, masquerading as the police officer.
"I-I learned some real good games in camp. One in particular-ly was fun." -- Lyon, as Lolita, coming on to Mason.
"Six months have passed and Lolita is attending an excellent school where it is my hope that she will be persuaded to read other things than comic books and movie romances." -- Mason's narration.
"You never let me have any fun."
"No fun? You have all the fun in the world. We have fun together, don't we? Ay, whenever you want something, I buy it for you automatically. I take you to concerts, to museums, to movies. I do all the housework. Who does the-the tidying up? I do. Who does the cooking? I do. You and I have lots of fun -- don't we Lolita?" -- Lyon and Mason, having a lovers' quarrel.
"Hello. Is this Professor Humbert?...How are you Professor?...I was just wondering if you've been enjoying your stay in our lovely little town...It doesn't matter what my name is. It's really obscure - an unremarkable name....my department, you see, is sorta concerned with the bizarre rumors that have been circulating about you and that lovely, remarkable girl you've been traveling around with...with all this traveling around you do, you don't get much time to see a psychiatrist regularly, is that right?...You are classified in our files, professor, you are classified in our files as a white widowed male. I wonder if you'd be prepared to give our investigator a report, Professor, on your, uh, current sex life, if any...!" -- Sellers, tormenting Mason with an anonymous phone call.
"March 19th"Dear Dad,"How's everything? I have gone through much sadness and hardship. I'm married. I'm going to have a baby. I'm going nuts because we don't have enough to pay our debts and get out of here. Please send us a check." -- Lyon's letter to Mason, years after deserting him.
"Well, congratulations. I don't suppose it ever occurred to you that when you moved into our house, my whole world didn't revolve around you. You see, I'd had a crush on him ever since the times that he used to come and visit mother. He wasn't like you and me. He wasn't a normal person. He was a genius. He had a kind of, uh, beautiful, Japanese, Oriental philosophy of life." -- Lyon, explaining that Sellers was her true love.
"I want you to live with me and die with me, and EVERYTHING with me." -- Mason, making one final effort to win Lyon back.
"Humbert Humbert died of coronary thrombosis in prison awaiting trial for the murder of Clare Quilty." -- Closing title, another sop to the censors.
Compiled by Frank Miller
Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) first wrote about an older man's passion for his stepdaughter in Volshebnik ("The Wizard"), a novella not published until 1986, after his death. He also included similar plot elements in his 1926 short story "A Nursery Tale," the 1932 novel Laughter in the Dark and 1937's The Gift, in which the protagonist outlines a novel whose plot mirrors that of Lolita.
In 1947, Nabokov wrote a friend that he had started working on a short novel about a man who was sexually attracted to little girls. At the time, he called it A Kingdom by the Sea.
Inspirations for the novel may have included Heinz von Eschwege's 1916 German short story "Lolita," about a lodger who falls in love with a girl living in the same house, and the real-life case of a 50-year-old mechanic who abducted and abused an 11-year-old girl for almost two years. Nabokov would also say that Humbert Humbert's passion for Lolita reflects his own love affair with the English language.
When Nabokov started sending the manuscript to publishers, one was so shocked he tore it up. Another suggested he burn the original manuscript, while still another suggested the book would be more palatable if he turned the title character into a young boy.
It took Nabokov four years to get Lolita published in the U.S. The novel was so controversial no publisher here would touch it. Instead, it debuted in France, published by the Olympia Press in Paris, in 1955. G.P. Putnam's Sons finally published it in the U.S. in 1958, with Weidenfeld and Nicholson publishing the British version a year later.
Despite the fact that the book's initial printing of 5,000 sold out, there were no reviews of the Olympia Press edition of Lolita. The book did not attract any notice until writer Graham Greene referred to it as one of the best novels of 1955 in an interview. Then the book was banned in Great Britain and France.
Stanley Kubrick and his producing partner, James B. Harris, bought the film rights to Lolita in 1958, a few weeks before the novel first appeared in the U.S. They paid Nabokov $150,000 and 15 percent of the film's profits. Initially, the author declined to write the screenplay.
In its U.S. publication, Lolita became the first book since Gone With the Wind to sell 100,000 copies within three weeks of its release. It remained on the best-seller list for 56 weeks.
Kubrick first assigned the screenplay to novelist Calder Willingham, who had written the script for Paths of Glory (1957). When the new screenplay proved unacceptable, Kubrick finally convinced Nabokov to do the adaptation himself.
Nabokov was delighted with his work on the screenplay, claiming he had turned the novel into poetry. The script even incorporated sequences cut from the original novel. Kubrick estimated that Nabokov's 400-page first draft would fill seven hours of screen time, so the novelist did another, shorter, re-write. Eventually, Kubrick and Harris wrote an adaptation of Nabokov's screenplay. Although they kept only about 20 percent of Nabokov's script, they allowed him to keep the screen credit.
Kubrick turned to publisher Martin Quigley, a co-author of the Hollywood Production Code and long-time supporter of the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency, for help in getting his script past the censors.
To placate the Production Code Administration and the Legion of Decency Kubrick agreed to make no clear reference to Lolita's age and to forgo love scenes. He also tipped the audience to Humbert's romantic love for Lolita early in the film, a choice he would later regret. In the novel, the protagonist's true love for the girl is not revealed until the end. The script passed the Production Code Administration on only the second submission.
In another concession to the censors, Kubrick moved Clare Quilty's murder to the opening of the film, making it clear that Humbert's illicit passion for Lolita would have serious consequences. He also added a final title to indicate that Humbert had died of a heart attack in his prison cell.
Production Code censors labeled a scene in which Humbert cannot make love to Charlotte until he sees Lolita's picture on her night stand as "sexual perversion." When Kubrick shot the scene, Charlotte is fully clothed, and Humbert is wearing his robe.
With script approval from the Production Code Administration, Kubrick and Harris secured financing from a group of Canadian bankers whose only stipulation was that the film be shot in England to keep costs down. The final budget was $1.9 million, low for the early '60s.
James Mason was Kubrick's first choice to play Humbert Humbert, but the actor turned him down in favor of a move to the Broadway stage to star in a musical version of The Affairs of Anatole that he hoped would boost his failing film career. Kubrick had also discussed the role of Humbert with Sir Laurence Olivier while they were filming Spartacus (1960), but the actor later got cold feet about the project. Noel Coward, David Niven and Rex Harrison all turned down the role. Cary Grant announced that he had declined the role, too, although Kubrick and Harris stated they had never offered it to him. They also briefly considered Peter Ustinov.
Errol Flynn pitched himself and teen love Beverly Aadland for the leads in Lolita, but Kubrick passed.
Finally, Mason agreed to accept the role, though he balked at the suggestion that his daughter, Portland, test to play Lolita.
Having been impressed with Peter Sellers' performance in The Battle of the Sexes (1959) and his comedy album The Best of Sellers, Kubrick offered him the role of Clare Quilty, the writer who ultimately steals Lolita from Humbert. At the time, the role was a cameo, only on screen for about five minutes.
When Sellers had trouble developing an interpretation of his role, Kubrick had jazz musician Norman Granz record the dialogue, which gave Sellers the key to Quilty's character.
Tuesday Weld, then 16 and already noted for sexually provocative performances in films such as Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1958), was an early favorite for the title role, but Nabokov exercised his contractual right to veto the casting. He simply didn't see her as his character.
Kubrick also approached Hayley Mills, then a hot box office star on the strength of her performances in Tiger Bay (1959) and Pollyanna (1960), but she turned the role down. At the time, sources said her father, actor John Mills, had made the decision for her. Later, it was revealed that Walt Disney, who held her contract, did not want her appearing in the film.
The young Joey Heatherton also turned down the title role because her father was afraid she would be typecast in sexual roles..
Kubrick spotted Sue Lyon on TV's Letter to Loretta. One thing that convinced him to hire her was the size of her breasts, which were surprisingly mature for her age at the time (13). He reasoned her physical maturity would make Lolita seem older. She was 15 when the film was shot and 16 when it was released.
by Frank Miller
Always open to exploring the options for playing a scene, Kubrick encouraged Peter Sellers to improvise in front of the camera for Lolita. Eventually, they built up the role of Quilty, adding the various disguises he uses to stalk Humbert and Lolita.
Kubrick shot most of Sellers' scenes with two or three cameras at once. The actor did his most inspired work on the first take, so Kubrick used that technique to get all the angles he needed without losing spontaneity.
One of Sellers' additions to the film was the ping pong game between Quilty and Humbert that precedes the murder.
During the filming of Lolita, Mason realized that Sellers was stealing the film. He confided in friends that he should have insisted on playing Quilty himself.
Originally, Kubrick asked Bernard Herrmann to score the film. By that time, however, the director had decided to include Bob Harris' "Theme From Lolita" on the soundtrack, and Herrmann refused to incorporate it within his score. Instead, Nelson Riddle scored the film.
Lyon loved horseback riding and refused to give it up during the filming of Lolita. Instead, Kubrick warned her "If you get thrown, roll over. Don't hurt your face."
The film Humbert, Charlotte and Lolita watch at the drive-in is The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Hammer Films' reinvention of the classic Hollywood monster movie, starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. When the film cut to the three characters in the car, Kubrick had a different soundtrack recorded to make the film sound scarier.
The Production Code Administration passed the film with a few snips on the soundtrack and an early fade to the scene in which Lolita seduces Humbert after her mother's death. The British and Australian prints contain the scene as originally shot.
The Legion of Decency agreed to pass Lolita as long as children under 18 were barred from seeing the film.
Kubrick held a special screening for Vladimir Nabokov a few days before the film's premiere. That was the first time the author learned that most of his screenplay had been jettisoned, but he reported himself very happy with the picture, praising Kubrick and the cast.
Lolita premiered June 13, 1962, at the Loew's State in New York. At the time, Sue Lyon was still too young to legally see the film.
Capitalizing on the controversy surrounding the novel, MGM sold the film with the tag line "How did they ever make a movie out of Lolita?"
by Frank Miller
"How did they ever make a movie out of Lolita?" was the tag line for the ad campaign behind this film, Stanley Kubrick's screen version of the infamous Vladimir Nabokov novel. Actually, there was no easy answer to the question but it was used to arouse the public's curiosity about the controversial subject matter: a middle-aged man's obsessive infatuation with a prepubescent girl, or, more precisely, a 'nymphet', to put it in the words of Humbert Humbert (the book's main character).
Lolita (1962) was a significant step forward for Kubrick's career because it was the first film over which he had complete creative control. It was also the director's first movie to be produced in England; all of his subsequent projects would be filmed there. Lolita began its journey to the screen in 1958 when Kubrick and his partner, producer James B. Harris, purchased the film rights. They immediately approached Nabokov to adapt the screenplay from his own novel but he declined, later confessing in Lolita: A Screenplay that "the idea of tampering with my own novel caused me only revulsion." Kubrick was persistent, however, and eventually won Nabokov over, promising him a free hand in the adaptation. After six months, the author turned in a screenplay which was 400 pages in length and was promptly rejected by Kubrick as too long (he estimated it would run seven hours in that version); Nabokov then submitted a shorter version which, in turn, was extensively revised by Kubrick and Harris until the final script contained only about 20 percent of Nabokov's work. Still, the latter received the sole screen credit for the writing.
Casting for the film was equally challenging. Tuesday Weld was first considered for the part but by the time the film actually approached the production stage, she was already too old for the role. Sue Lyon, a screen newcomer, eventually won the part of Lolita and turned thirteen during the filming, which was significantly older than the nymphet of the novel. But the idea of casting a younger actress was out of the question because the censors were already up in arms about the central premise of the film.
As for the role of Humbert Humbert, David Niven, Rex Harrison, and Noel Coward were all candidates but declined, fearing it was too risky a venture and might actually hurt their careers; some of them reasoning that audiences might identify them too closely with the part. But when James Mason was offered the role, he took it as a challenge. Besides, his film career was currently in a slump (Kubrick, at one point, even proposed that Mason's young daughter, Portland, play Lolita but her father immediately rejected the idea). The other key roles were soon filled by Shelley Winters as Charlotte, Humbert's landlady and mother of Lolita, and Peter Sellers as the enigmatic Clare Quilty, a minor character in the novel that Kubrick expanded for the screen version. In fact, Kubrick spent more time helping Sellers develop the Quilty character than he did with the rest of the cast, causing Mason, in particular, to feel that he had taken the wrong role. Not only did the director engage jazz impresario Norman Granz to record Quilty's dialogue on tape so Sellers could find "his character," but he also had two to three cameras trained on Sellers for every take in order to catch any inspired improvisation Sellers came up with. As a rule, Sellers was usually brilliant on the first take, uneven on the second, and practically exhausted by the third. However, Kubrick only used the most inspired bits and they demonstrate Sellers' remarkable gifts for mimicry and improvisation.
When Lolita was released nationally, it received mixed reviews. Some critics complained that the film lacked the depth and psychological detail of the original novel but how could it be completely faithful in light of the censorship restrictions at the time? Nabokov, in particular, had contradictory feelings, writing, "My first reaction to the picture was a mixture of aggravation, regret, and reluctant pleasure," but later in a Playboy interview, said, "The four actors deserve the highest praise. Sue Lyon bringing that breakfast tray or childishly pulling on her sweater in the car - these are moments of unforgettable acting and directing." Other reviewers endorsed the film wholeheartedly like Pauline Kael who wrote, "It's the first new American comedy since those great days in the forties when Preston Sturges recreated comedy with verbal slapstick. Lolita is black slapstick and at times it's so far out that you gasp as you laugh."
Probably the film's worst critic was Kubrick himself who said, "I would fault myself in one area of the film. Because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency at the time, I wasn't able to give any weight at all to the erotic aspect of Humbert's relationship with Lolita; and because his sexual obsession was only hinted at, it was assumed too quickly that Humbert was in love. Whereas in the novel this comes as a discovery at the end." With all due respect to Kubrick, Lolita remains a landmark film of the sixties and still stands as one of the most intelligent and clever literary adaptations ever brought to the screen. Despite the fact that it only garnered one Oscar nomination (for Best Adapted Screenplay), Lolita is an excellent place to begin if you are not familiar with Stanley Kubrick's early work.
Producer: James B. Harris
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Vladimir Nabokov (also novel), Stanley Kubrick (uncredited)
Art Direction: William C. Andrews
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Costume Design: Gene Coffin
Film Editing: Anthony Harvey
Original Music: Bob Harris (Lolita theme), Nelson Riddle
Principal Cast: James Mason (Professor Humbert Humbert), Shelley Winters (Charlotte Haze), Sue Lyon (Dolores "Lolita" Haze), Peter Sellers (Clare Quilty), Gary Cockrell (Dick Schiller), Jerry Stovin (John Farlow), Diana Decker (Jean Farlow), Lois Maxwell (Nurse Mary Lore).
BW-154m. Letterboxed. Closed captioned. Descriptive Video.
by Jeff Stafford
AWARDS & HONORS
Lolita was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Lolita was nominated for Golden Globes for Best Director, Best Motion Picture Actor and Actress in a Drama (did they miss the point?) for James Mason and Shelley Winters, and Best Supporting Actor for Peter Sellers. Sue Lyon won the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer.
Stanley Kubrick received a Director's Guild nomination for his work but lost to David Lean.
Lolita was nominated for an Oscar® for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost to the more family friendly To Kill a Mockingbird.
The film won Mason a British Academy Award nomination.
The Harvard Lampoon honored the "Theme From Lolita" as the year's most obnoxious movie song and gave Sue Lyon "The Cellophane Figleaf for insisting that she is not a Lolita in real life."
The Critics' Corner: LOLITA
"'How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?' The answer to that question, posed in the advertisements of the picture...is as simple as this. They didn't....But once this is said about the movie -- and once the reader has been advised not to expect the distractingly sultry climate and sardonic mischievousness of the book -- it must be said that Mr. Kubrick has got a lot of fun and frolic in this film. He has also got a bit of pathos and irony toward the end."
- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
"The surprise of Lolita is how enjoyable it is: it's the first new American comedy since those great days in the forties when Preston Sturges recreated comedy with verbal slapstick. Lolita is black slapstick and at times it's so far out that you gasp as you laugh."
- Pauline Kael, I Lost It at the Movies
"For all the sometimes sly, sometimes savage humor, there is an understanding of Humbert's moral disease at its heart, and this makes it more moral, actually, than a good many of Hollywood's so-called 'clean' pictures."
- Hollis Albert, Saturday Review
"Some elements of the film are far above ordinary. James Mason gives his best performance since Odd Man Out . Peter Sellers is staggeringly accurate as the American Quilty and Quilty-as-a-German....Shelley Winters is wistful and hygienically slovenly as Charlotte. Stanley Kubrick, the director, has caught in some sequences (the murder, Humbert in the bathtub) an approximation in film style of the novel's style. And he has drawn from Sue Lyon, a somewhat matronly nymphet of 15, a performance that is always sound and sometimes sly."
- Stanley Kauffman, The New Republic
"Sue Lyon has the 'eerie vulgarity' and provocative whine of the novel's Lolita. That she may look 'too old' in some scenes merely emphasizes the discrepancy between the mind's eye, to which the novel is directed, and the more literal camera's eye as it registers the authentic way American adolescence annihilates the pubescent gap between childhood and adulthood."
- Alexander Walker, Stanley Kubrick Directs
"Peter Sellers is grotesquely conceited and fussy in a role that needs deadly simplicity. Shelley Winters is right and smart. Sue Lyons is not bad if you like sixteen-year-olds (which is not what the novel is about). The decision to film in Britain - when Lolita is one of the great roaming tours of Americana - is demented. But Ossie Morris delivers a nice, gray black-and-white look that encourages one to listen to the words. Also on the sound track is a naggy, silly, cute, but actually quite enticing score...that I can never get out of my head and which I now associate with the great book."
- David Thomson, Have You Seen...?
"The director's heart is apparently elsewhere. Consequently, we face the problem without the passion, the badness without the beauty, the agony without the ecstasy."
- Andrew Sarris
"Fitfully amusing but slightly plotted and very lengthy screen version of a sensational novel in which the heroine is only twelve, which makes a difference. The flashback introduction and various comic asides are pretentious and alienating."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide
"...it looks better with every passing year...Picture is at times screamingly funny; the performances by Sellers (at his most manic) and Mason - talking smart yet acting like a five-year-old, displaying a sickly smile - are marvelous (although Mason doesn't fit the image one gets of Nabokov's Humbert Humbert)."
- Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic
"The journey across America, forming the central section of the film, provides the basis for Kubrick's characteristically wry observation of the rootlessness of contemporary American society."
- The Oxford Companion to Film
"Less genuinely ecstatic in its portrait of paedophiliac obsession than Nabokov's novel - Kubrick is too cold and distanced a director ever to portray happiness, it seems - but nevertheless far more satisfying than his later works... Mason is highly impressive as Humbert Humbert - all repressed passion and furrowed brow - and Winters contributes just the right amount of vulgarity as Lo's mother. Kubrick manages to handle the moral and psychological nuances with surprising lucidity, but the decision to indulge Peter Sellers' gift for mimickry in the role of Quilty tends to scupper the movie's tone. Fascinating, nevertheless.
- Geoff Andrew, TimeOut Film Guide
"...it lacks the power to shock and, eventually, makes very little point either as comedy or satire...The result is an occasionally amusing but shapeless film...There is much about the film that is excellent. James Mason has never been better than he is as erudite Humbert Humbert."
Compiled by Frank Miller