Lolita (1962 film)

Lolita (1962 film)

Infobox Film
name = Lolita

image_size = 215
caption = Theatrical poster
director = Stanley Kubrick
producer = James B. Harris
writer = Vladimir Nabokov Stanley Kubrick
starring = James Mason Shelley Winters Sue Lyon Peter Sellers
music = Nelson Riddle Theme: Bob Harris
cinematography = Oswald Morris
editing = Anthony Harvey
distributor = Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
released = 13 June, fy|1962
runtime = 152 minutes
country = United Kingdom United States
language = English
budget = US$2,100,000
preceded_by =
followed_by =
amg_id = 1:29846
imdb_id = 0056193

"Lolita" is an influential 1962 film by Stanley Kubrick based on the classic novel of the same title by Vladimir Nabokov. The film stars James Mason as Humbert Humbert, Sue Lyon as Dolores Haze (Lolita) and Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze with Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty.

Due to the MPAA's restrictions at the time, the film toned down the more perverse aspects of the novel, sometimes leaving much to the audience's imagination. The actress who played Lolita, Sue Lyon, was fourteen at the time of filming. Kubrick later commented that, had he realized how severe the censorship limitations were going to be, he probably never would have made the film.


The film begins in a battle between two men, which ends with one of them, Clare Quilty, being shot. The shooter was Humbert Humbert (played by Mason), a 40-something British professor of French literature. The film then turns to events 4 years earlier and goes forward as Humbert travels to Ramesdale, New Hampshire, a small town where he will spend the summer before his professorship begins at Beardsley College, Ohio. He searches across the town for room to let, being tempted by widowed, sexually famished mother, Charlotte Haze (played by Winters) to stay at her house. He declines until seeing her beautiful 14-year-old daughter, Dolores Haze (played by Lyon), affectionately called “Lolita” (hence the title). Lolita is a soda-pop drinking, gum-chewing, overtly flirtatious teenager, with whom Humbert falls hopelessly in love.

In order to become close to Lolita, Humbert accepts Charlotte's offer and becomes a lodger in the Haze household. Soon, however, Charlotte announces that she will be sending Lolita to an all-girl sleep-away camp for the summer. On the morning of departure, Humbert receives a love confession note from Charlotte, asking Humbert to leave at once. The note says that if Humbert is still in the house when Charlotte returns from driving Lolita to camp, then he must join Charlotte in marriage. Humbert willingly marries Charlotte days later. After the wedding and honeymoon, Charlotte discovers Humbert’s diary entries describing his passion for Lolita, and has an emotional outburst. She threatens to leave forever, taking Lolita far away from Humbert. While Humbert hurriedly fixes martinis in the kitchen to smooth over the situation, Charlotte runs outside, gets hit by a speeding car, and dies.

Several days later Humbert drives to Camp Climax to pick up Lolita, and as they travel from hotel to motel across the United States, they begin a sexual relationship. In public, they act as father and daughter to avoid suspicion. During their travels, Humbert tells Lolita that her mother is not sick in hospital, but dead – deeply saddened and affected, she stays with Humbert, believing he is her only comfort. Months later, Humbert and Lolita’s car trips are followed by the same car. As Lolita becomes sick from the common cold, she is hospitalized, and eventually kidnapped by the follower, Clare Quilty (played by Peter Sellers), a famous playwright, on whom Lolita had a crush for some time. Years after the kidnapping, Humbert receives a letter from Lolita in which she says that she is now married to a man named Dick, and that she is pregnant and in desperate need of money. Humbert travels to Lolita and Dick’s home, where Lolita is waiting. Humbert finds that she is no longer the precocious young girl he once loved, but a 17-year-old heavily pregnant woman, in a happy relationship – only he is even more in love with her now. Humbert demands that Lolita tell him who kidnapped her three years earlier. She tells him it was “the man that was following us”, Clare Quilty. After meeting Dick, Humbert asks Lolita to come away with him. She declines, preferring her new life. Humbert, deeming Quilty responsible for taking his love, goes off to shoot him in his mansion—where the film began.



With Nabokov’s consent, Kubrick changed the order in which events unfolded by moving what was the novel’s ending to the start of the film, a literary device known as "in medias res". Kubrick determined that while this sacrificed a great ending, it helped maintain interest, as he believed that interest in the novel sagged halfway through once Humbert was successful in seducing Lolita." [ An Interview with Stanley Kubrick (1969)] " by Joseph Gelmis. Excerpted from "The Film Director as Superstar" (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970).]

The second half contains an odyssey across the United States and though the novel was set in the 1940s Kubrick gave it a contemporary setting, shooting many of the exterior scenes in England. Some of the minor parts were played by Canadian and American actors, such as Cec Linder, Lois Maxwell, Jerry Stovin and Diana Decker, who were based in England at the time. Kubrick had to film in England as much of the money to finance the movie was not only raised there but also had to be spent there.


The moral values and censorship of the time inhibited Kubrick's direction. Kubrick commented that, “because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency at the time, I believe I didn't sufficiently dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert's relationship with Lolita. If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did.” In a 1972 "Newsweek" interview, Kubrick said that had he realized how severe the censorship limitations were going to be, he "probably wouldn't have made the film." [" [ 'Lolita': Complex, often tricky and 'a hard sell'] " by Jeff Edmunds.]

Lolita's age was raised to fourteen, as Kubrick believed that this was the right age. He has commented that, “I think that some people had the mental picture of a nine-year-old, but Lolita was twelve and a half in the book; Sue Lyon was thirteen.” (Actually, Lyon was 14 at the time of filming: she was born in July 1946 [ [ IMDB entry for Sue Lyon] ] and it was shot between November 1960 and May 1961. [ [ IMDB, "Business Data for "Lolita"] ] )

Writing and narration

Humbert uses the term 'nymphet' to describe Lolita, which he explains in and uses throughout the novel; it only appears once in the movie and its meaning is left undefined. [" [ Lolita (1962)] " A Review by Tim Dirks - A comprehensive review containing extensive dialogue quotes. These quotes include other details of Humbert's narration.] In a voiceover on the morning after the Ramsdale High School dance, Humbert confides in his diary, “What drives me insane is the twofold nature of this nymphet, of every nymphet perhaps, this mixture in my Lolita of tender, dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity. I know it is madness to keep this journal, but it gives me a strange thrill to do so. And only a loving wife could decipher my microscopic script.”

This voiceover is a part of Humbert’s narration, which was central to the novel. Kubrick uses it sparingly and, apart from the above comment, only to set the scene for the film’s next act. Humbert’s comments are generally simple statements of fact, spiced with the odd personal reflection.

The only other one of these reflections which makes reference to Humbert’s feelings towards Lolita is made after their move from Ramsdale to Beardsley. Here Humbert's comment seems to show only an interest in her education and cultural development: “Six months have passed and Lolita is attending an excellent school where it is my hope that she will be persuaded to read other things than comic books and movie romances”.

The narration begins after the opening scenes but ceases once the odyssey begins. Kubrick makes no attempt to explain Humbert's fascination with Lolita, which a full narration would have done, but merely treats it as a matter of fact. An explanation might well have made Humbert a more sympathetic character, which may not have suited a censor in 1962.


The screenplay is credited to Nabokov, although very little of what he provided (later published in a shortened version) was used. Nabokov remained polite about the film in public, but in a 1962 interview, before seeing the film, commented that it may turn out to be "the swerves of a scenic drive as perceived by the horizontal passenger of an ambulance" [Nabokov, "Strong Opinions", Vintage International Edition, pp. 6-7] .


"Lolita" was filmed again in 1997. The film was not as well received as Kubrick's version, and was a major box office bomb, grossing only $1 million at the US box office. It was, however, a much more accurate adaptation of the novel.


James Mason plays Professor Humbert Humbert, who falls under Lolita's spell. He is smooth, charming, self-assured and a little condescending, as might be expected of an academic. Shelley Winters plays Charlotte Haze, the loud, overbearing, status-seeking widow who is both Humbert's landlady and Lolita's mother. When she develops a romantic interest in Humbert, Charlotte's pushy advances as parried by Humbert's barely concealed sarcasm become comedic. Sue Lyon's performance as Lolita is more restrained, but this may well result from concerns about the censor. When allowed freedom to act, she subtly shows the darker side of Lolita's character. Peter Sellers' performance as Clare Quilty was generally acclaimed at the time. The character’s role was greatly expanded from that in the novel and Kubrick allowed Sellers to adopt a variety of disguises throughout the film.

In the earlier sections of the film, Quilty is a conceited, avant-garde TV writer with a superior manner. In later scenes, he becomes the overbearing 'bad cop' on the porch of the motel where Humbert and Lolita are staying. Then he changes to the intrusive authoritarian German professor, Doctor Zempf, who appears in Humbert's front room for the purpose of ordering him to give Lolita more freedom in her after-school activities. [ Kubrick in Nabokovland] by Thomas Allen Nelson. Excerpted from "Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist's Maze" (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000, pp 60–81)] The author and film critic Tim Dirks has commented that Sellers' smooth German-like accent and the chair-bound pose in this scene are similar to that of Dr. Strangelove in Kubrick's future film "". [" [ Lolita (1962)] " A Review by Tim Dirks.] Thomas Allen Nelson has said that in this part of his performance, “Sellers twists his conception of Quilty toward that neo-Nazi monster, who will roll out of the cavernous shadows of Dr. Strangelove”.

Cast list

* James Mason as Prof. Humbert Humbert
* Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze-Humbert
* Sue Lyon as Dolores "Lolita" Haze
* Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty
* Gary Cockrell as "Dick" Schiller
* Jerry Stovin as John Farlow (Ramsdale lawyer)
* Diana Decker as Jean Farlow
* Lois Maxwell as Nurse Mary Lore
* Cec Linder as Dr. Keegee (at hospital)
* Bill Greene as George Swine (hotel night manager in Bryceton)
* Shirley Douglas as Mrs. Starch (piano teacher in Ramsdale)
* Marianne Stone as Vivian Darkbloom
* Marion Mathie as Miss Lebone
* James Dyrenforth as Frederick Beale Sr.
* Maxine Holden as Miss Fromkiss (hospital receptionist)
* John Harrison as Tom

;Cast notes
* James Mason was the first choice of director Stanley Kubrick and producer James B. Harris for the role of Humbert Humbert, but he initially declined due to a Broadway engagement. Laurence Olivier then refused the part, apparently on the advice of his agents. Kubrick considered Peter Ustinov, but decided against him. Harris then suggested David Niven; Niven accepted the part, but then withdrew for fear the sponsors of his TV show, "Four Star Playhouse" (1952), would object. Mason then withdrew from his play and got the part. Harris denies claims that Noel Coward also rejected the role. [ Lolita (1962) - Trivia ] ]
* Tuesday Weld was considered for the role of Lolita.
* Hayley Mills also turned down the role of Lolita. At the time, her father, John Mills was credited with the decision; later, Walt Disney.
* Stanley Kubrick originally wanted Joey Heatherton for the title role of Lolita, but her father Ray Heatherton said no for fear his daughter would be typecast as a "promiscuous sex kitten."


"Lolita" premiered on 13 June, fy|1962 in New York City. It performed fairly well, with little advertising relying mostly on word-of-mouth — many critics seemed uninterested or dismissive of the film while others gave it glowing reviews. However, the film was very controversial, due to the pedophilia-related content, and therefore while many things are suggested, hardly any are shown. Sue Lyon was barred from the premiere due to the film's "Adults Only" status at the time.

Years after the film's release it has been released on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD. It received $3,700,000 rentals in the USA on VHS.

Differences between the film and the book

There are many differences between Kubrick's film adaptation and Nabokov's novel, including some events that were entirely omitted. Most of the sexually explicit innuendos, references and episodes in the book were taken out of the film due to the strict censors of the 1960s; the sexual relationship between Lolita and Humbert is always implied and never depicted graphically on the screen. In addition, some events in the film do not match those of the novel exactly, and there are also differences in Lolita's character. Some of the differences are listed below:

;Differences in Lolita's character and/or physical appearance
* Lolita's age was raised from twelve to fourteen in the film to meet the MPAA standards.

* In fact, Sue Lyon was chosen for the title role partly due to the size of her breasts. Stanley Kubrick had been warned that censors felt strongly about the use of a less developed actress to portray a sexually active girl that was to seem at least fourteen.

* The name "Lolita" is only used by Humbert in the novel, whereas in the film several of the characters refer to her by the pet name. In the book she is referred to simply as "Lo" or "Lola" or "Dolly" by the other characters, as "Lolita" was Humbert's personal, endearing and lustful name for the nymphet.

* Lolita wasn't blond in the novel; she is described as having short chestnut-brown hair in a bob style, and honey-tanned skin. In the film Lolita has blond shoulder length hair.

* In the film, Sue Lyon is attractive by conventional standards, but in the novel, both Charlotte and Humbert comment on Lolita's lack of conventional attractiveness, and it is hinted that this is why greater suspicion does not fall on Humbert throughout their travels.

;Plot omissions explaining Humbert's infatuation with 'nymphets'

* The critical episode in Humbert's life in which at age 14 he was interrupted making love to young Annabel Leigh who shortly thereafter died is entirely omitted in the film. In the novel, Humbert gives this as the key to his obsession with nymphets, explaining that the experience of this thwarted amorous relationship and indeed the shock of her death represented a "permanent obstacle to any further romance throughout the cold years of [his] youth". Humbert identifies Annabel as the "initial fateful elf" in his life, stating that after her death "the poison was in the wound, and the wound remained ever open". Unable to fully recover from the loss, the image, smell, taste of youth filled Humbert's desires even throughout adulthood: "the ache remained with [him] , and that little girl with her seaside limbs and ardent tongue haunted [him] ever since". He thus claims that "Lolita began with Annabel" and that Annabel's spell was broken by "incarnating her in another". On first seeing Dolores Haze, Humbert describes the "passionate recognition" of the child Annabel, his dead bride, the prototype whom Lolita reincarnated and would subsequently completely eclipse.

* Before this reincarnation Humbert attempts to have "so-called normal relationships" with "terrestrial women", at times being ashamed and frightened of his condition, at others believing "there was nothing wrong in being moved to distraction by girl-children". He resorts to "young whores" whom he recognises as mere "palliative agents". It then occurs to Humbert that "regular hours, home-cooked meals and all the conventions of marriage...might help [him] , if not to purge [himself] of [his] degrading and dangerous desires, at least to keep them under specific control". He thus marries Valeria, the daughter of a Polish doctor. Valeria is subsequently dubbed Valechka for her unfaithfulness to Humbert in falling for a Russian ex-colonel, leading to their divorce.

;Other plot omissions involving Humbert's life before Ramsdale

* After the divorce Humbert begins his travels, arrives in New York and takes up various jobs. He is sent to a sanatorium for a while after a serious breakdown before undertaking another job and going on a research expedition to Canada as a "recorder of psychic reactions". On returning he is again hospitalised until he finally moves to New England to continue his studies.

* Finally, correspondence with the McCoo family in Ramsdale leads to an agreement to accommodate Professor Humbert for the summer, before he is to take up his post as professor of French Literature at Beardsley College. He was keen on this arrangement because the McCoo's had a twelve-year-old daughter, a potential "enigmatic nymphet whom [he] would coach in French and fondle in Humbertish". However the McCoo household happened to burn down in the few days prior to his arrival, and this is when Mrs. Haze of 342 Lawn Street offered to accommodate Humbert. At first this appeared a preposterous solution as Humbert's only reason for coming at all, the hope of residing with a nymphet whom he might privately adore, had vanished. Frustrated, yet feeling obliged to visit Mrs. Haze's home, Humbert is then delighted all the same when he meets Mrs. Haze's daughter: Dolores Haze, his "Lolita".

;Humbert's later character

* Because Humbert narrates the novel, his increased mental deterioration in the entire second half of the story is more obvious from the increasingly desperate tone of his narrative.

;Plot differences regarding expansion of Quilty character

* Quilty's role is greatly magnified in the film and brought into the foreground of the narrative, whereas in the novel Humbert catches only brief uncomprehending glimpses of his nemesis before their final confrontation at Quilty's home. Quilty's role in the story is made fully explicit in the film, rather than being concealed surprise twist near the end of the tale.
This magnifies the book's theme of Quilty as a dark double of Humbert, mirroring all of Humbert's worst qualities.

* The film opens with a scene near the end of the story, Humbert's arrival at Quilty's home, a brief conversation with him, and Quilty's death. The rest of the film is a flashback which begins from Humbert's first meeting with Charlotte Haze and continues chronologically until the final murder scene is presented once again. However, in the book, narrated by Humbert, the events flow in chronological order from the very beginning, opening with Humbert's life as a child and ending with the murder of Clare Quilty. The murder scene, although referred to obliquely and cryptically throughout the book by narrator Humbert, is not described until near the very end.

* In the novel, Miss Pratt, the school principal at Beardsley, discusses with Humbert Lolita's behavioral issues and finally persuades Humbert into letting Lolita participate in the school play. In the film, this role is replaced by the disguised Quilty under the alias of "Dr. Zemph". This disguise is not in the novel at all. In both versions, a claim is made that Lolita appears to be "sexually repressed" as she mysteriously has no interest in boys. Both Dr Zempth and Miss Pratt express the opinion that this aspect of Lolita's youth should be developed and stimulated by dating and participating in the school's social activities. However, in the novel Miss Pratt naively believes this, while Quilty, of course, knows the truth. Although Peter Sellers is playing only one character in this film, Quilty's disguise as Dr. Zemph allows him to employ a mock German accent that is quintessentially in the style of Sellers' acting.
Playwright Edward Albee's stage adaptation of the novel follows Kubrick's film rather than the book in this scene.

* The movie retains the book's theme of Quilty (anonymously) goading Humbert's conscience on many occasions, though the details of how this theme is played out are quite different in the film.

;Other differences

* In the book, Humbert and Charlotte go swimming in Hourglass Lake, where Charlotte announces she will ship Lo off to a good boarding school; that part takes place in bed in the film. Humbert's contemplation of possibly killing Charlotte similarly takes place at Hourglass Lake in the book, but at home in the film. This difference is also reflected in Humbert's contemplated method of killing Charlotte. In the film he considers the possibility of shooting her with a pistol whilst in the house, whereas in the book he is tempted to drown her in the lake before, as in both scenarios, concluding that he could never bring himself to do it. (The Hourglass Lake version of the attempted killing appears on the "Deleted Scenes" section of the 1997 film. Interestingly, in the book Humbert both considers killing Charlotte and later Lolita accuses him of having deliberately killed her. But only the first scene is in the 1962 film and only the latter scene is in the 1997 film.)

* The relationship between Humbert and alcoholic Rita was left out of the film.

* In the novel, Humbert gives a total monetary sum of $4,000 to 17-year-old Lolita. In the movie, this amount is magnified to $12,900.


The film was nominated for 7 Awards, including an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer which went to Sue Lyon.

* Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer for Sue Lyon

* Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Vladimir Nabokov
* British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for Best Actor for James Mason
* Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for Stanley Kubrick
* Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actor for James Mason
* Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress for Shelley Winters
* Golden Globe Award Best Motion Picture Director for Stanley Kubrick
* Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor for Peter Sellers
* Venice Film Festival Award for Best Director for Stanley Kubrick

Alternate versions

* The scene where Lolita first "seduces" Humbert as he lies in the cot is a good 10 seconds longer in the British and Australian cut of the film. In the U.S. cut, the shot fades as she whispers the details of the "game" she played with Charlie at camp. In the UK/Australian print, the shot continues as Humbert mumbles that he's not familiar with the game. She then bends down again to whisper more details. Kubrick then cuts to a closer shot of Lolita's head as she says "Well, alrighty then" and then fades as she begins to descend onto Humbert on the cot. The latter cut of the film was used for the Region 1 DVD release.

* The Criterion laserdisc release is the only one to use a transfer approved by Stanley Kubrick. This transfer alternates between a 1.33 and a 1.66 aspect ratio (as does the Kubrick-approved 'Strangelove' transfer). All subsequent releases to date have been 1.66 (which means that all the 1.33 shots are slightly matted).

* The BBFC cut the film in 1961 for an 'X' rating.



Additional sources

* Richard Corliss, "Lolita" London: British Film Institute, 1994; ISBN 0-85170-368-2

External links


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