A professor becomes sexually obsessed with his landlady's
underage daughter, and goes to great lengths to be with her.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Vladimir Nabokov
Starring James Mason, Sue Lyon, Peter Sellers,
Shelley Winters, Jerry Stovin, Diana Decker, Lois Maxwell
Based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov
Oscar Nominations - Best Adapted Screenplay
Lolita is unlike any film that came before it. Only Stanley Kubrick could take a novel about blatant pedophilia and turn it into a good movie. The film's title has since become synonymous with underage girls or some other sort of taboo. I won't go so far as to say the film is entertaining. If anything, it's Kubrick's first foray into disturbing territory. But it's well-made, terrifically acted, and surprisingly endearing on some level. Lolita is, in many ways, the film nobody wants to admit they liked.
James Mason portrays Professor Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged writer who becomes infatuated with his landlady's underage daughter Lolita, played by Sue Lyon. The two have decent chemistry and play equally despicable characters. Watching Humbert attempt to seduce 14-year-old Lolita is just plain uncomfortable, especially when he tries to use her mother's death as a way to get her on his side. The standout is Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty, an oddball playwright who also becomes obsessed with Lolita and goes to insane lengths to get to her. Sellers showcases his skill at playing multiple characters, a talent he would later use to his full potential for Kubrick in Dr. Strangelove.
The film treats the relationship between Humbert and Lolita like some forbidden love instead of an immoral one. The ending even seemed to deliberately make fools out of the audience as well as the characters, with a tacked on final note that feels like the natural progression that would occur after something like this. Lolita is unique in many ways, primarily in its willingness to tackle a seriously taboo subject matter in an obvious, uncompromising way. It's another impressive notch in Kubrick's belt.