Review: ‘Lolita’

Vladimir Nabokov's witty, grotesque novel is, in its film version, like a bee from which the stinger has been removed. It still buzzes with a sort of promising irreverence, but it lacks the power to shock and, eventually, makes very little point either as comedy or satire. The novel has been stripped of its pubescent heroine and most of its lively syntax, graphic honesty and sharp observations on people and places in a land abundant with cliches.

Vladimir Nabokov’s witty, grotesque novel is, in its film version, like a bee from which the stinger has been removed. It still buzzes with a sort of promising irreverence, but it lacks the power to shock and, eventually, makes very little point either as comedy or satire. The novel has been stripped of its pubescent heroine and most of its lively syntax, graphic honesty and sharp observations on people and places in a land abundant with cliches.

The result is an occasionally amusing but shapeless film about a middleaged professor who comes to no good end through his involvement with a well-developed teenager. The fact that the first third of the picture is so good, bristling with Nabokovisms – a gun, for example, referred to as a tragic treasure – underscores the final disappointment.

There is much about the film that is excellent. James Mason has never been better than he is as erudite Humbert Humbert, driven by a furious passion for a rather slovenly, perverse ‘nymphet’ (a term, incidentally, wwhich is used only once in the entire film). He is especially good in the early sequences as he pursues Lolita to the point where he even marries her mother, whom Shelley Winters plays to bumptious perfection.

Matching these two performances is that of Peter Sellers who, as a preposterously smug American playwright (Mason’s rival for Lolita’s affections), gets a chance to run through several hilarious changes of character.

Sue Lyon makes an auspicious film debut as the deceitful child-woman who’d just as soon go to a movie as romp in the hay. It’s a difficult assignment and if she never quite registers as either wanton or pathetic it may be due as much to the compromises of the script as to her inexperience.

1962: Nomination: Best Adapted Screenplay

Lolita

Production

M-G-M. Director Stanley Kubrick; Producer James B. Harris; Screenplay Vladimir Nabokov; Camera Oswald Morris; Editor Anthony Harvey; Music Nelson Riddle; Art Director Bill Andrews, Syd Cain

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1962. Running time: 152 MIN.

With

James Mason Shelley Winters Peter Sellers Sue Lyon Gary Cockrell Jerry Stovin
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  1. Neha says:

    To put it in a nutshell, its a beautiful book. The language used here is just amazing,beautiful and genius. Given that English is the authors second language, he still owns it and makes love to it. the words he uses to tell his story perfectly conveys the various emotions expressed here directly to the core of your heart.I felt his pain and fears. like i was actually there near him in the room and in his trips. Im not going to comment on the content the book is about cause quiet frankly you already know about it if you are are reading this. Everyone has their own understanding over it. Some sympathize the protagonist disregard of his ill affair. Some hate him and see him in utter disgust. But whatever be it, you cant deny the beauty of the book and its writing. The images he puts in your head gets engraved there as a memory, except the disturbing ones ofcourse. They are always done quickly. Overall its a must read on my side! cheers!

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