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 [show more]
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