Lolita [VHS] 
Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial masterpiece. Humbert Humbert (James Mason) is a fastidious, middle-aged British novelist who is both appalled by and attracted to the vulgarity of American culture. When he comes to stay at the boarding house run by Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters) he soon becomes obsessed with Lolita (Sue Lyon), the woman's teenaged daughter. In fact, his passion for the girl becomes so overwhelming that he is willing to accept Charlotte's intimations of marriage just in order to be close to her daughter. Humbert then plots to spend more and more time alone with Lolita, but his pursuit of his obsession soon becomes such that it leaves all their lives damaged.
Stanley Kubrick's 1961 version of Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov's notorious 1953 novel, prompted a scandal in its day: even to address the issue of paedophilia on screen was deemed to be as perverted as the hapless protagonist Humbert Humbert. James Mason plays Humbert, the suave English Professor whose gentlemanly exterior peels away as quickly as his scruples once exposed to Sue Lyons' well-developed teenage beauty. In order to be close to her, he marries her mother, the lonely and pathetically pretentious Charlotte (Shelley Winters) only for her to expire conveniently, leaving Humbert free to embark on a motel-to-motel trek across America with Lolita in tow, evading suspicions that theirs is more than a father-daughter relationship. Peter Sellers, meanwhile, gives a Dr Strangelove-type tour de force performance as Clare Quilty, a TV writer also in pursuit of Lolita, who harasses Humbert under several guises, including a psychiatrist.
As a movie, Lolita is flawed, albeit interestingly so. The sexual innuendo (a summer camp called Camp Climax, for example) seems jarring and pointless, while Sellers' comic turn detracts from any sense of guilt, tension or tragedy. It's as if the real purpose of the film is to offer a sort of silent, mocking laughter at the wretched Humbert and systematically divest him of his dignity. By the end, he is a babbling wretch while Sue Lyons' Lolita is pragmatic and self-possessed. It's Mason and Lyons' performances, which lift the film from its mess of structural difficulties. Decades on, their central relationship still makes for pitifully compulsive viewing.
On the DVD: Few extras, sadly, though the brief original trailer is excellent, built around the question, "How could they make a film out of Lolita?". The original black and white picture and mono sound are excellent. --David Stubbs --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Given the reputation that follows the tale of Lolita around, it's sometimes easy to forget how funny this first (and best) film adaptation is. With Kubrick, we're in the hands of a master satirist. So when Lolita is shipped off to the hilariously named 'Camp Climax', her emotional farewell embrace with Humbert Humbert (James Mason) is cut short with what amounts to a snappy "see ya" before the camera swoops over our troubled anti-hero as he gazes longingly over the banister, full of yearning and repressed passion, while melodramatic music swells like something out of Gone With The Wind.
Humbert is an amusingly sardonic sort when he knows he's going to get what he wants; he's stroppy when he can't. So, while we're never offered any backstory to help us build a psychological justification for Humbert's infatuation, we can clearly see that his passion brings out the teenager in him: fickle, randy, playful and obstreperous.
Shelley Winters marvellously over-plays Dolores' lonesome mother, the actress's alleged poor treatement by the director pre-dating Shelley Duvall's by almost 20 years - and, similarly, it could be argued the performance is improved accordingly.
This was Kubrick's first collaboration with Peter Sellers (who plays the writer Clare Quilty). Like Dr Strangelove, there's an exhilarating unpredictability whenever the chameleonic Sellers occupies the screen.Read more ›
Humbert Humbert, played by James Mason, a european intelectual, arrives in Ramsdale and decides to marry his new landlady, the preening and needy Charlotte Haze, in order to to be close to her precocious teenage daughter Lolita played beautifully by newcomer Sue Lyon. Humbert falls for the daughter and without really knowing it begins to lose his identity to the lust he cannot control for Lolita. The deluded Humbert soon finds Lolita has another admirer in the form of Clare Quilty played with relish by the ever wonderful Peter Sellers.
Please don't be put off by the notion of a relationship between a man in his fifties and a teenager, Kubrick deals with this facet of the story with great subtleness and sensitivity. The story of Humberts decent into almost madness and his relationships between the Haze and Quilty characters is the most entertaining in the film. The actual scenes between him and Lolita are rather subdued and uninteresting, the Lolita character is rather vacuous and has little to say, and when she does say something it is of little consequence.
At 147 minutes it's quite a long film but it never really flags because, Winters, Sellers, and Mason are all superb and when they are on screen you really do want to know what happens next. It's a tribute to Kubrick that he was able to create a film with such a subject without it being uncomfortable or difficult to watch. What you will remember are the wonderful performances that will stay with you after the film has finished.
The plot - being centred around a middle-aged university professor who has a perverse sexual attraction to the fourteen year old nymphet daughter of his landlady - was something of a leap ahead of its time, and certainly for this to be demonstrated on screen was even more highly unusual considering the moral codes of filmmaking in the early 60s (MPAA had this toned down badly from what was originally scripted). Lead actor James Mason, smooth voiced, darkly smouldering and charmingly handsome is hardly the stereotyped actor you would expect to be cast as a paedophile, and yet, he carries the role quite well of Humbert Humbert's obsession with fourteen year old sexually aware Dolores "Lolita" Haze.
The MPAA were negligent enough to ignore some of the subtle (now blatantly obvious) innuendo that the script was full of which gives good opportunity for a laugh or two at certain intervals (see if you can spot the references!). For those worried about viewing such material, there is thankfully no scenes of a sexual nature between Lolita and Humbert on screen, but alot is implied and more than obvious to the viewer of what is going on (and if the thought disturbs you perhaps even this cult classic should be avoided).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I liked the book; the movie was a completely different story to that told by Nabokov.Published 7 months ago by leonid
It begins badly, with Peter Sellers doing his funny voice routine (not all that funny), sparks a bit during the scenes between Mason and Winters, then lapses again as Sellers does... Read morePublished 10 months ago by A.J.Bradley