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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Lolita

Starring: James Mason, Sue Lyon
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Rated: NR
RunTime: 152 Minutes
Release Date: June 1962
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, Marianne Stone, Diana Decker

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

In 1962 the great director Stanley Kubrick (SPARTACUS, DR. STRANGELOVE, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and BARRY LYNDON) made a movie of the controversial best seller LOLITA. Although this year Adrian Lyne will be releasing his version with Melanie Griffith as the Charlotte Haze, Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert, Frank Langella as Clare Quilty and Dominique Swain as Lolita Haze, this review is of Kubrick's 1962 version.

Censorship was much stronger in 1962. If you wanted to release pictures into places other than art houses, you had to have the Industry's seal on it. In order to get it, Kubrick toned down a story of love between an middle-aged man and a young teen so much that the movie is more about murder and comedy than any sexual deviation. In fact the movie as filmed is so tame that it would almost certainly get a PG-13 rating today. The raunchiest scene is one of Lolita setting on the lawn by herself in a not particularly revealing bikini.

LOLITA is based on the best selling novel by Vladimir Nabokov. The book was labeled pornography by many at the time, and most movie studios did not care to have anything to do with it. Kubrick decided to make it into a movie, but he wanted the seal so he completely reworked the story and got the seal. This was made easier by his throwing away most of the material in the screenplay attempt, more of a tome actually, by the author.

The plot of the book is reasonably straightforward, but Kubrick's change to start off at the ending makes it feel more complicated than it is. Basically the movie is about a 40ish novelist with the strange double name of Humbert Humbert (James Mason) who comes to live one summer in a rented room in Charlotte Haze's (Shelley Winters) house.

Living with single Mrs. Haze is her fourteen year old daughter Lolita (Sue Lyon). For poor Sue Lyon this was the only decent film she ever made. She would latter appear in such classic roles as Linda in EVEL KNIEVEL (1971). In LOLITA she is great as a bored teen who lets her boredom get her into big trouble. Both Mason and Lyon demonstrate the consequences of a lack of morals. Lyon does it with a who-cares attitude; Mason with heavy angst. Both are highly effective. Combine this with Kubrick's black comedy rendition of the story as well as his Hitchcockian touch of suspense and the movie becomes quite compelling. Notice too how Kubrick has the adults all drinking so heavily you can see that alcoholism is one source of their problems.

Also in the film is a strange screenwriter with an equally unusual name, Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers). Sellers acting in the role is one that many critics like, but I found overboard. He goes too much for the heavy comedy for my taste, and I found scenes with him in it grating on my nerves. Overall, I wish Kubrick had cast someone else. Speaking of casting, Tuesday Weld was considered for the role of Lolita, but she reportedly turned it down. I think she would have been perfect for it.

The dialog is excellent. Typical is a riposte between Humbert and Charlotte. She asks him, "Do you believe in God?" His immediate reply is, "The question is does God believe in me?" Later, in a nice little line, Mason explains how, "The best men all shave twice a day."

If you judge the movie by today's freer standards and ignore most of the actions and contrivances that Kubrick had to go through, the film could seem a bit trite. If you approach it with an open mind, the movie can seen to be a deserving member in the body of work of a master director. Other than Sellers's acting and Mason's silly vaudevillian style routine with a folding bed that had no place in the movie, I liked it all.

Technically the film is interesting as well. The black and white footage by Oswald Morris is quite dramatic. Many scenes have Humbert's car moving down a road with dramatic music (Nelson Riddle) playing to highlight the importance of the journey.

LOLITA runs a bit long at 2:32. I think the material would have been more effect with tighter editing. The picture is unrated, but given there is no sex or nudity and the little violence is not very graphic, I think it would actually get a PG-13 today. If you did not know the story, this version of the movie is so ambiguous that one could easily assume that Lolita's relationship with Humbert is merely platonic. The film should be fine for any teenager. I recommend the picture to you. I look forward to the new Lolita by Lyne and hope I get invited to the press screening. This 1962 version gets *** in my book.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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