"Are you Quilty'"--Humbert Humbert (James Mason) "No, I'm Spartacus. Have you come to free the slaves or somethin''"
- Quilty (Peter Sellers), in a reference to Kubrick's classic 1960 film
"Hum, you just touch me and I--I go as limp as a noodle. It scares me."--Charlotte (Shelley Winters) "Yes, I know the feeling."
Los Angeles Times - 09/12/1996
"...LOLITA reminds us what a remarkable actor Mason was in his range and insight into the characters he played, and Winters is hilarious yet oddly touching..."
USA Today - 11/02/2004
"[A] deadpan lead Sue Lyon plays amusingly off the typically intense vocal cadences of James Mason, who is in top form."
Entertainment Weekly - 04/19/2013
"Kubrick managed a masterpiece."
Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial LOLITA is a wicked satire of sexual obsession, sadomasochism, and fetishism. When mild-mannered professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) arrives in the small town of Ramsdale, New Hampshire, he is immediately set upon by his landlady, Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters), and her adolescent daughter, Lolita (Sue Lyon). Although Humbert gets involved with Charlotte, it is Lolita with whom he becomes obsessed. When Charlotte sends her daughter away to summer camp (the aptly named Camp Climax), Humbert becomes consumed with jealousy. He finally takes Lolita out of camp and heads out alone with her. He is pestered along the way by Clare Quilty (played magnificently by Peter Sellers), who threatens to expose him. But nothing can break the hold Lolita has over Humbert.
From the opening credits sequence--a close-up of a man's hand (with a wedding ring) carefully polishing a young girl's toenails--Kubrick's biting, darkly comic LOLITA burns with sexual energy as it follows the debasement of an intelligent, worldly man in a series of carefully choreographed long takes that boil over with psychosexual tension. Although little physical contact is shown, Kubrick hints at it beautifully, especially in the drive-in scene in which both Charlotte and Lolita grab on to Humbert's hands. And yet given the serious nature of the subject matter, Kubrick pauses long enough to include a riotous slapstick scene of Humbert and a bellhop struggling over a cot as Lolita sleeps quietly on the bed, as well as Quilty playing Ping-Pong with a seemingly endless supply of balls. Stanley Kubrick's highly controversial masterwork is a fascinating look at pedophilia and sexual taboos that lead to obsession and murder.
Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged professor, becomes totally infatuated by Lolita, a nubile and flirtatious teenage girl. His infatuation grows into sexual fixation, leading him to woo Lolita's mother, Charlotte, in an effort to be near the object of his desire. Dating culminates in marriage, but Lolita's mother eventually learns the truth about Humbert's affections for her daughter.
Character Study |
Essential Cinema |
Family Interaction |
Theatrical Release |
Theatrical release: June 14, 1962.
LOLITA marked the film debut for Sue Lyon after an exhaustive search for the right actress.
Rated BBFC X by the British Board of Film Censors--meaning no one under 16 was permitted in theaters.
Director-screenwriter-producer Stanley Kubrick, whose career was launched by the film PATHS OF GLORY, made LOLITA in 1962. He did, however, have to dance around those censors up in arms over what they thought was the inappropriate sexual objectification of a young girl by a man many years her senior. Kubrick had to make adjustments to appease motion picture authorities. For example, he tried to mollify censors by changing the preteen 12-year-old girl of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, on which the film is based, to a pubescent teenager, 14 years old.
Estimated budget: $2 million.
The film was shot in 88 days.
Additional films with this theme include: Elia Kazan's BABY DOLL; Louis Malle's PRETTY BABY; and Woody Allen's MANHATTAN. Adrian Lyne revisited the story with his 1997 LOLITA, a film that was similarly blocked from widespread theatrical distribution.
The original script, written by Nabokov, wasn't used, though it's reprinted in book form. James B. Harris and Kubrick rewrote the screenplay--and encouraged Peter Sellers to improvise much of his part.
The movie that is playing at the drive-in when Charlotte and Lolita both grab on to Humbert is THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.
The character name Vivian Darkbloom is an anagram for Vladimir Nabokov.
The poem Humbert reads to Lolita is Edgar Allan Poe's ULALUME.
The sexual references even include the name of the summer camp Charlotte goes to--Camp Climax for Girls.
Peter Sellers's portrayal of Dr. Zempf is very similar to his portrayal of Dr. Strangelove two years later.
The books Humbert gives to Lolita are THE HISTORY OF DANCING and James Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN.
Bob Harris composed the theme song.
Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, and David Niven were considered for the part of Humbert Humbert, and Tuesday Weld was considered for the part of Lolita.
Sue Lyon was 14 at the time the film was made. In the book, Lolita is nine at first; she is already a teenager when the film begins.
Kubrick and James B. Harris bought the rights to Nabokov's novel for $150,000.
One ending that was considered was to have Humbert and Lolita get married in a state that allowed young people to wed; this ending was considered in order to appease the censors.
Peter Sellers disguises himself as a number of different characters in the film; in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, he actually takes on a number of separate roles.
Adrian Lyne's remake ended up going straight to cable as no distributor would pick it up because of its sexual content.
Once again Kubrick includes a scene involving chess, as he did in THE KILLING and even SPARTACUS. (In the epic battle scene, the Romans line up in what appears to be a chessboard design.)