“A middle-aged college professor becomes infatuated with a fourteen-year-old nymphet.”

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Vladimir Nabokov, Stanley Kubrick, James B. Harris
Staring: James Mason, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon, Peter Sellers
Rating: NR
Release Date: June 21, 1961

The first scene of the movie takes place in a ransacked mansion the day after an all-nighter party. College professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) is tripping over spilt cups and furniture looking for a man by the name of Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers). There is a verbal duel between the two men. Humbert is set on himself with a personal motivation as foundation, but Clare is just playing the game and egging on the conversation in a drunken haze.

This confrontation sets the stage for events that happened for years prior.

Professor Humbert is a single introverted college professor moving into a suburban town while looking to secure a new teaching position. Humbert walks into a hole with two women; Charlotte Haze (Melanie Griffith) is a women Humbert’s age who has been soaked in loneliness since the passing of her husband. Haze immediately falls for Humbert, but his attention is diverted elsewhere. Humbert only has eyes for Lolita (Dominque Swain).

Lolita is splitting the difference between teenager and young adult. Her attitude and petulance is that of a young girl, but her knowledge of her power and sway as a women is beyond her years. Humbert becomes intoxicated by Lolita, so much so that he marries Charlotte to stay closer to Lolita.

Charlotte and Humbert have a massive argument one morning while Lolita is away at camp. The consequences of this fate send the story of Lolita into its second act, and sends Humbert down a spiral staircase of personal unravelling.

Professor Humbret Humbert (James Mason) working on listening to Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters)

Humbert, in an act of selfishness, picks up Lolita from camp and together they embark on a cross country road trip. Humbert is keeping secrets from Lolita regarding her mother and from the public in regards to his unique (and would be frowned upon) relationship with Lolita. The time with each other, along with Humbert’s urgings, start to push the pair’s relationship past the realms of normal and acceptable.

The forbidden love of Humbert’s has send everyone he cares about (or pretended to) into a very deep well, but no one’s water is as black and mucky as his own. He is soaked in jealousy, paranoia and a hunger for power. Come the end of Lolita, both the titular character and Humbert have to decide whether or not they want to split at a fork in the road or stick out this live/love in the shadows.

While the character of Humbert has the most screen time and James Mason is strong with his performance, there is not doubting that the breakout star of Lolita is Sue Lyon. Playing the heartthrob teenager, Lyon possesses far more sexual charisma than I frankly feel comfortable with. She has the look and she carries herself with all of the confidence of a super model in a rather simple bar. It is uncomfortable in the best way. A way that fits the story of Lolita perfectly.

Lolita was nominated for one Academy Award. Vladamir Nabokov was nominated officially for his writing on a screenplay based on material from another medium. Also known as, an adapted screenplay. According to IMDB, Kubrick himself helped out with the writing process, as did James B. Harris.

I am somewhat shocked that this movie and this screenplay got remade. In 1997, acclaimed sexy noir director Adrian Lyne (most recently did Deep Water (2022)) took the story and reimagined it with Jeremy Irons in the roll of Humbert Humbert. Melanie Griffith plays the part of Charlotte Haze and Dominique Swain made it in the roll of Lolita. I have not seen this version of Lolita yet, but a viewing is mandatory. Kubrick was ahead of his time in 1962, so how did this more modern telling of the story view the themes?

Lolita is a movie that I admittedly may not understand all of. It is reminiscent of another Stanley Kubruck movie, Barry Lyndon (1975). I understand the skill needed to craft a story as masterfully as these two movies unfold. I see the certain shots that let you know that Kubrick is a master with what he does. I see the characters unfurling and I see the story evolving (or rather devolving). What I am here to say is that Lolita is enjoyable and memorable even if you don’t pick up on every single subtle clue.

STANKO RATING: B (4.0/5 Stars)


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