LOLITA - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

UK, 1962

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Production: AA Productions. An Anya Productions/Transworld Pictures production, in association with Seven Arts Productions, for MGM; black and white; running time: 153 minutes; length: 13,798 feet. Released June 1962.

Producer: James B. Harris; screenplay: Vladimir Nabokov, from his own novel; additional dialogue: Stanley Kubrick; second unit director: Dennis Stock; assistant directors: René Dupont, Roy Millichip, John Danischewsky; photography: Oswald Morris; camera operator: Denys N. Coop; editor: Anthony Harvey; assistant editor: Lois Gray; sound editor: Winston Ryder; sound recordists: Len Shilton, H. L. Bird; art directors: Bill Andrews, Sidney Cain; music: Nelson Riddle.

Cast: James Mason ( Humbert Humbert ); Sue Lyon ( Lolita Haze ); Shelley Winters ( Charlotte Haze ); Peter Sellers ( Clare Quilty ); Diana Decker ( Jean Farlow ); Jerry Stovin ( John Farlow ); Suzanne Gibbs ( Mona Farlow ); Gary Cockrell ( Richard Schiller ); Marianne Stone ( Vivian Darkbloom ); Cec Linder ( Physician ); Lois Maxwell ( Nurse Mary Lore ); William Greene ( George Swine ); C. Denier Warren ( Potts ); Isobel Lucas ( Louise ); Maxine Holden ( Receptionist ); James Dyrenforth ( Beale ); Roberta Shore ( Lorna ); Eric Lane ( Roy ); Shirley Douglas ( Mrs. Starch ); Roland Brand ( Bill ); Colin Maitland ( Charlie ); Irvine Allen ( Hospital Attendant ); Marion Mathie ( Miss Lebone ); Craig Sams ( Rex ); John Harrison ( Tom ).



Nabokov, Vladimir, Lolita , New York, 1974; second edition, 1983.


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Kagan, Norman, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick , New York, 1972.

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Hirschhorn, Clive, The Films of James Mason , London, 1975.

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Winters, Shelley, Shelly, Also Known as Shirley , New York, 1980.

Ciment, Michel, Kubrick , Paris, 1980; revised edition, 1987; translated as Kubrick , London, 1983.

Kolker, Robert Philip, A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Altman , Oxford, 1980; revised edition, 1988.

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Combs, Richard, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), August 1984.

Burns, D. E., "Pistols and Cherry Pies: Lolita from Page to Screen," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), October 1984.

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"Quilty by Suspicion," in New Yorker , vol. 68, 18 January 1993.

Bick, Ilsa J., and Krin Gabbard, "'That Hurts!': Humor and Sadomasochism in Lolita : The Circulation of Sadomasochistic Desire in the Lolita Texts," in Journal of Film and Video (Atlanta), vol. 46, no. 2, Summer 1994.

Gabbard, Krin, "The Circulation of Sadomasochistic Desire in the Lolita Texts," in Journal of Film and Video (Atlanta), vol. 46, no. 2, 1994.

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Taubin, A., "Hell's Belles," in Village Voice (New York), vol. 42, 29 April 1997.

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* * *

Undoubtedly a film by a great director benefits from being seen again in retrospect, since the films he has directed subsequently shed a new light on it. Such is the case with Lolita (1962), misunderstood at the time of its release when Kubrick's status as an auteur was not yet firmly established. The reputation of Vladimir Nabokov, author of the original and scandalous book, overshadowed the director's attempt at translating it for the screen. Two main criticisms were levelled at the film: one was its "betrayal" of a literary masterpiece, its failure to create an equivalent style, while the other was the disappointment of many who expected a titillating erotic experience. Seen today Lolita appears as a turning point in Kubrick's career.

On the most superficial level it marks his departure from America (to which he would never return). Because of the pressure of the moral leagues and also probably for financial reasons, Kubrick decided to shoot the film in London and decided to settle there. Lolita is the first feature where he decides to recreate a concrete world (the American province and its highways) in the artificial setting of a studio as he would with the Vietnam war of Full Metal Jacket . But more deeply Lolita is a study of madness that anticipates Dr. Strangelove and The Shining . Because of the censorship problems Kubrick displaced the focus of the story from the nymphet's relationship with an older man (Sue Lyon was too old to be a convincing nymphet anyway) to the obsessional nightmare of Humbert Humbert. From the first shot of Lolita appearing in a sunlit garden the film progressively becomes a journey to the end of the night which leads James Mason to a crisis of insanity in a dark hospital corridor and the murder of Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers) among the shadows of a baroque mansion.

The producer, James B. Harris, and Kubrick had acquired the rights of the novel in 1958 in the wake of their recent successes The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957). Asked to write an adaptation Nabokov delivered a script that would have led to a seven-hour film. He resumed work on it but eventually Kubrick changed it considerably, more than the credits suggest. In the foreword to his original screenplay, published in 1974, Nabokov writes, with wry humor and admiration, "At a private screening I had discovered that Kubrick was a great director, that his Lolita was a first-rate film with magnificent actors and that only ragged odds and ends of my script had been used . . . . My first reaction to the picture was a mixture of aggravation, regret, and reluctant pleasure."

The transformations made by Kubrick were all directed towards black humor and a sense of the grotesque. He particularly developed the character of Clare Quilty, a kind of superego for Humbert Humbert (Sellers, in anticipation of his three roles in Dr. Strangelove , disguises himself as a school psychiatrist, the threatening Dr. Zemph, and also a member of a Police convention, being clearly marked as an authority figure) and introduced scenes of macabre irony, like the ping-pong game before Quilty's murder.

Kubrick also emphasizes the social satire, looking at the American small town's life from the point of view of the visiting European Professor (played by the always suave and sophisticated English actor James Mason), as if he, who had just settled in England, were already a stranger in his own country. The scene in the drive-in with Lolita and her mother, the chess-game, and his listening to the mourners after Charlotte's death as he sits in the bath-tub are obvious examples of this satirical look at the vulgarity of the middle-class.

Followed as it was by the science-fiction trilogy ( Dr. Strangelove , 2001: A Space Odyssey , and A Clockwork Orange ) Lolita may have looked at one time to be far away from Kubrick's new concerns. However, both Barry Lyndon and The Shining , two studies (among other elements) of domestic life, force us to look back on the earlier film with its intimation of the work to come. Kubrick casts the same cold eye and adopts the same pessimistic derision as he portrays the fate of his masochistic hero. But at the same time he lets the emotions come through at key moments, allowing Humbert Humbert to appear as a three-dimensional character, a rare feature in Kubrick's films, which generally tend to offer stylized heroes or abstract silhouettes.

—Michel Ciment

Also read article about Lolita from Wikipedia

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