Stanley Kubrick directs James Mason, Sue Lyon and Peter Sellers in his blackly comic take on Nabokov’s seminal and sympathetic noncing novel.
Ask me a week ago and I would have said Lolita was one of my favourite Kubricks. A perfectly performed tightrope walk along a controversial topic with a magnificent central performance from Mason (debonair but utterly corrupt) and a witty script that gifts all the support with hilarious moments around Humbert’s frustrations. Sure, it is pleasantly coy about its paedo content due to the censorship of its time (and would it even be made today?) but what real world horrors this Lolita skips across swiftly is done so with a light footed grace. Yet revisiting it with fresher eyes, it nigglingly also feels like Patient Zero for some of our Stanley’s worst excesses too. He never really mastered passing off the Home Counties as the States in his films… And while I’m not a nit picker… when we are already asked to suspend belief so a 16 year old can play a 14 year old who should really be an 11 year old, then you just cannot run multiple cons concurrently without all the threads starting to unravel. The lack of truth jars a tad too often. Then there’s that Kubrickian length… creeping in so that the final hour is filled by so few scenes,where so little but the expected happens, but with none of that necessary fleet footed that makes the opening salvo chime and hum. Once dirty old Humbert’s fantasies come true his comeuppance lacks structure and satisfaction. Sellers mucks about royally as the more reptilian predator but really it is Mason’s graceful expression of a more internalised plotting and paranoia that keeps you involved and even sympathetic when Stanley takes his foot off the gas. The slightly too old, definitely too womanly casting of Lyon as the title nymphet is oft criticised by others. I actually think she makes for a charmingly inscrutable enigma and prize for the human monsters to lust after. Shame she never really found much more significant work after this. She’ll eternally be a brilliant movie poster. Still, new negatives aside, this often is a wonderful piece of film making, just baggier in the back end than I remembered. Maybe I am outgrowing Lolita’s charms.