Lolita (1962)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Vladimir Nabokov from his novel (Stanley Kubrick and James B. Harris uncredited)
A.A. Productions Ltd./Anya/Harris-Kubrick Productions/Transworld Pictures
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Lolita Haze: ‘Fraid someone’s gonna steal your ideas and sell ’em to Hollywood, huh?

The novel is indeed unfilmable but Kubrick makes an excellent first foray into black comedy.

Suave erudite European Humbert Humbert (James Mason) has a thing about young girls for reasons unexplained in this movie.  He has come to America to teach at a college and plans to spend the preceding summer at a resort in Maine.  He is looking to rent a room when he meets up with vulgar pathetic landlady Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters).  He is ready to bow out when he catches a glimpse of her blonde 16-year-old daughter Lolita (Sue Lyons) in the garden.

Charlotte is smitten with Humbert and views Lolita as an impediment to alone time.  When she gets Lolita out of the way by sending her to camp, she declares her love.  Humbert, eager for a convenient step-daughter, marries her.

The rest of the film follows Humbert’s trials and tribulations with his “little girl”.  With Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty.

“We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep.” ― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Lolita is one of my very favorite novels and I have read it more times than I have seen the movie.  There is no way any film could capture it.  Not because of the subject matter, but because of the ineffable blend of black comedy with tragedy and because at heart it is a love letter to the English language.  For some reason, Nabokov’s screenplay was also gutted  The film weakens the pathos by making Lolita a teenager, rather than the 12-year-old of the novel.

That said, Kubrick made a superb comedy on his first attempt.  There are some really stunning shots here as well.  The performances are all wonderful.  I can’t imagine anyone else in the roles, though Jeremy Irons did well in the 1997 remake.

Nabokov was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.  I see that Nabokov’s actual screenplay is available on Amazon.  I look forward to reading it!


2 thoughts on “Lolita (1962)

  1. I recently revisited LOLITA. I adore the fist “half” then, as the pathos deepens, I’m never quite ready for how tragic it becomes. It’s one of the greats. Time to read the novel, again. Have fun with the screenplay!

    • Did you revisit the book or the film? I’ve started on the screenplay. It is super uncinematic, although it’s fairly close to the novel. There’s an interesting intro in which Nabokov says that Kubrick told him it would make a seven hour film! Do you think the movie would have worked better with a voice-over narrator? But then somehow they would have to have let the audience in on the fact that Humbert is as unreliable as it is possible to be.

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