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Lolita Movie Review

humbert kubrick mason james

I first read Vladimir Nabokov's classic novel Lolita late at night with a flashlight when I was way too young for it—12. At that age, the idea of any middle-aged man slobbering all over a kid was the ultimate gross-out, although I must confess that I couldn't put down the book all night long. The idea of returning to the original source material has always made me squeamish, but Stanley Kubrick's 1962 screen adaptation has been a kick to watch over and over again. In spite of some rather unfair reviews at the time of the film's original release, James Mason IS Humbert Humbert, the ideal incarnation of elegant sleaze. In real life, Mason was a fairly down-to-earth guy, but only a few of his directors, like Kubrick and Georgy Girl's Silvia Narizzano, captured his authentic self-deprecating charm. You rarely think of sensuous, brooding Mason discussing junky American cultural symbols with crushing familiarity, but as Humbert Humbert, he is obsessed not only with a seductive child but also with the cheap trappings that surround her. To get the kid, he even pursues her mother, portrayed, with her usual egoless desire for the truth, by Shelley Winters, then just 40. Winters, who had not then acquired the padding that sustained the illusion that she was many years older than she really was, nevertheless stuffs herself into a series of outfits that are several sizes too small. Even better, she is absolutely merciless at exposing the intense sexual competition at the heart of many mother-daughter relationships. The sequences in which Winters’ character tries to entice Humbert wearing low-cut leopard pajamas while Lolita ignites his ardor with a sullen request for a mayonnaise-ridden sandwich are both painful and hilarious to watch. For many original audience members, Peter Sellers as Claire Quilty wrapped up the picture, and the role gave the inventive Sellers a chance to lose himself in many memorable roles-within-the-role. The movie was shot in England, providing a comfortable distance between Kubrick and the native land he lampoons so relentlessly for two and a half hours. Kubrick lets none of his fantasizing characters off the hook, not the lust-driven Humbert, not the treacherous Lolita and her unlucky Mama, and certainly not the devilish Quilty. A 1996 movie of Lolita with Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain is reportedly on the shelf; see the Kubrick version first for his unforgettable vision of America as an endless succession of highways and hotel rooms. They all may promise incredible sex, but they actually lead to a far more credible nowhere.

1962 152m/B GB James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, Sue Lyon, Gary Cockrell, Jerry Stovin, Diana Decker, Lois Maxwell, Cec Linder, Bill Greene, Shirley Douglas, Marianne Stone, Marion Mathie, James Dyrenforth, C. Denier Warren, Terence Kilburn, John Harrison; D: Stanley Kubrick; C: Oswald Morris; M: Nelson Riddle. Nominations: Academy Awards ‘62: Best Adapted Screenplay. VHS, LV, Letterbox

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