Home > Film, Reviews > Film Review: Lolita (1962)

Film Review: Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962; Directed by Stanley Kubrick)

Going into this, I hardly expected Stanley Kubrick to make Vladimir Nabokov’s contentious classic more light-hearted and less creepy. But he does, and it’s not really terribly helpful, honestly.

Only the occasional snatches of narration preserve Nabokov’s erudite, charming writing style, and these brief teases leave you aching for more. It’s unfortunate, too, because there’s some fairly fine performances cluttering the film. James Mason is hilarious early on, brushing off the aggressive intrusions of Shelley Winters’ Charlotte Haze (she’s basically perfect in the role), and grows comfortably into Humbert’s lunatic obsession. Sue Lyon is likely too pretty a Lolita, but is otherwise entirely convincing as a teasing nymphet.

A large part of the problem (indeed, maybe the entirety of the problem) with the film is Peter Sellers’ involvement in it. His quivering, nervous lasciviousness matches the undercurrents of the material and does, to some extent, give voice to the compulsive passion simmering beneath Humbert’s facade of suave coolness. But Sellers, as he almost always is, is just too much; he’s far too over-the-top and excessive to be a fully-formed foil to Mason’s smoothed-over Humbert. Kubrick clearly gave him free rein (as he would in their next film together, Dr. Strangelove, where Sellers’ late flights of improvisation as the title character again blemish a sardonic masterpiece), and Sellers goes off half-cocked, to the detriment of the film. Only in the opening scene is it acceptable, and then it’s only because you know he’s to be killed any minute. Overall, a generally-average adaptation of a remarkable book that likely deserved better.

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