LOLITA (1962)

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  James Mason, Peter Sellers, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon
Director:   Stanley Kubrick 
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  153 Minutes
Release Date:  October 23, 2007

"I want you to live with me and die with me and everything with me!"

Film ****

The subject matter of the novel Lolita was taboo enough for a book, and it seems even more so for a motion picture.  Oddly enough, however, director Stanley Kubrick manages to maintain enough of a distance from the actual subject to keep it from being a distraction in his film.  When you get down to it, it’s not so much the story of a perverse love affair as it is a self-destructive one.

James Mason plays one of the least popular protagonists in literary history in Humbert Humbert.  He’s a professor from England on assignment in the United States, who ends up involved with a spirited but somewhat goofy woman, Charlotte (Winters) and of course, her pretty but VERY underage daughter, Lolita (Lyon).

There’s no point mincing words about the relationship that evolves.  It is wrong in every sense of the word, and Humbert should know better, and we, the audience, know he should know better.  So can we accept him as a character of sympathy?  Strangely, yes.  Maybe because we can see long before he does that he is gingerly walking down a doomed path.  And although much of the film is played for laughs, the ending is truly poignant, and we tend to look on Humbert not so much as a man who entered into an unwholesome relationship, but more like the hapless addict who knows his behavior is destroying him, but can no long help himself.

Winters is remarkable as Charlotte, in a delightfully comic role.  (As an aside, she was considered a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, but she insisted on only being considered in the Lead Actress category, which failed to garner her a nomination, since she was only in about half of the film).  And Peter Sellers is brilliant as always as Quilty, the stalking playwright with an agenda of his own for the little girl.  Sue Lyon as Lolita does well in her role, although she never was able to channel it into much of an acting career for herself.

Ultimately, I think the film works because Kubrick really doesn’t seem to pass judgment on the characters.  Rather, he just shows us their natures, their strengths, their passions, and their weaknesses, and lets their stories unfold, leaving it up to the viewer to decide for himself what to think about them.

Video ***1/2

I considered the original Lolita one of the better transfers in the original Stanley Kubrick box set...and that wasn't saying much.  The remastered version is considerably better.  A quick comparison shows that A) the print is much cleaner, and B) sharpness, contrast, and detail are all markedly improved.  The level of grain has also decreased.  Much better...still not anamorphic, though.

Audio **

This Dolby Digital mix of the original mono soundtrack is fine, if not spectacular.  Dynamic range is at a minimum, and occasionally the music sounds a tad thin, but dialogue is clear throughout, and there was little in the way of noticeable noise. 

Features *

Only a trailer, but it’s a fairly interesting trailer; one that poses the question, “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?


Lolita will always be a controversial book and film because of it’s unpleasant and rather unwholesome subject matter, but don’t let yourself be put off from viewing the film because of that.  It’s actually much tamer than you might expect, and centers less on behavior that is sick and perverse, and more on behavior that is weak and self destructive.

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