Lolita is the daughter of Charlotte Haze, a widow who has taken in a lodger: Professor Humbert Humbert who is soon to take up his position as Professor of French literature at the University of Beardsley. Humbert is immediately infatuated with the young Lolita, to the extent that he marries Charlotte in order that he can always be near her.
Based on a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita is all about forbidden love and sexual obsession. James Mason is the polite, slightly lecherous Humbert, whose obsession with Lolita moves from infatuation, through protective, to an awkward sexual relationship, until he finally becomes overbearing and delusional. All of which Mason communicates flawlessly. I’ve never seen James Mason in anything before this, so I’ve no idea if this is up to his usual standard. To me James Mason is the voice Eddie Izzard uses whenever he is acting out God’s part in a conversation! Though if he’s this consistent then that would account for why he has 154 titles to his name in IMDB!
As the film progresses it is clear that Charlotte Haze (Shelly Winters) is a very needy character but is charmed by the polite Humbert, completely unaware at his idolatry of her daughter. Winters is not in the same league as Mason, and although she is good she is a bit more from this school of acting. Casting a young girl for the complicated, mature role of Lolita can’t have been easy, but Sue Lyon copes very well. Only 16 when Lolita was released her character is a school kid through most of the film, but she plays off Mason very well and gives a very mature performance.
The stand out performance is definitely Peter Sellers. He lights up every scene he is in, whether he is drunk, dancing, talking non-stop, or masquerading as a German psychiatrist! He is an absolute delight, and I’m sure that it is his chameleon performance here that inspires Kubrick to cast him in his next film Dr Strangelove.
The film itself looks tremendous. Shooting in black and white, the interior shots are all beautifully composed, and there are some nice tracking shots in Charlotte’s house. The classical score complements the scenes that feature it very well, but it is fairly sporadic throughout the long running time of almost 150 minutes. Either that or the music was so complimentary and unobtrusive that I didn’t notice it. One time is was very noticeable was over the intro credits. The scene was simply someone painting a girl’s nails (we find out later that it would most likely have been Humbert, just one of the little ways that he fawns over Lolita), printed credits and beautiful classical music.
For all my praise of this film, all of which is deserved, I still don’t think that it was my kind of film. Of all the films in my Kubrick Collection, Lolita is the only one that I had not seen before, so I was able to watch it with no preconceptions. So when I say that it isn’t my kind of film, this is my initial gut feeling having thought about it for a few hours. I’m not really sure what I mean by that; it’s not that I couldn’t sympathise with the characters, or appreciate the performances, or the cinematography... I think I’m talking myself into liking it more and more! After all, I have been able to quickly bash out over 500 words! Maybe it requires a second viewing to nail down my feelings. But not just yet, I have 7 more films and a documentary to watch. Can’t wait.