Lolita at 60: Stanley Kubrick’s daring drama is a deft tightrope act

Jesse Hassenger in The Guardian:

Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita still attracts plenty of analysis, admiration and disgust, in the classroom and beyond. But despite the pedigree of the beloved film-maker Stanley Kubrick, the first film adaptation of Lolita – released 60 years ago this week – is arguably more of a curio these days, forced to excise or elide some of the book’s thorniest elements for the sake of being allowed to exist at all.

The sheer unlikelihood of a Lolita movie being made near-contemporaneously with the novel was worked into the ad campaign, some of its posters adorned with a cheeky question: “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” Good question, relatively simple answer: by ageing up the title character slightly, and relying on innuendos and implications to keep the most explicit material offscreen. In the film, middle-aged professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) becomes sexually obsessed with 14-year-old Lolita (Sue Lyons), the daughter of his landlady-turned-wife Charlotte (Shelley Winters). If this sounds singularly unpleasant to watch, Lolita is even younger in the book, while less attentive modern viewers less versed in Hollywood innuendo could conceivably come away from the movie uncertain if Humbert ever acts on his predatory urges.

More here.