Of all of Stanley Kubrick's films, Lolita typically gets the lowest marks. While in many respects that's a fair assessment, it sells short the accomplishment of making a workable film of Vladimir Nabokov's novel within the restrictions of the early '60s, or any era, really. Working from a Nabokov script, Kubrick places his emphasis squarely on the novel's dark comedy. Strip the difference in age and Humbert Humbert's attitude toward Lolita becomes simply a portrait of the male psyche at its ugliest: obsessive in his idealization before Lolita reciprocates his affections, he becomes possessive and patronizing once their relationship gets underway. Capable of seeming charming and self-effacing even while he's destroying the lives of those around him, James Mason's performance holds the film together, but virtually every key role has been smartly cast. Peter Sellers is both funny and chilling as Mason's doppelganger, a man able to commit the same offenses with virtually none of the consequences. It's Winters, however, who grounds the film, her tremendously sad, all-too-recognizable character lending it a humanity lacking when she disappears from its second half. When Humbert's wanderings begin, the film itself loses its way a bit, in part due to its reliance on the interaction between Mason and Sue Lyon, who never quite displays the acting chops to match her appealing presence. A daring experiment, and in many respects a successful one, Kubrick's film is ultimately unable to maintain the uncomfortable intensity of its early domestic scenes, but still has much more going for it than its reputation as an interesting failure would suggest.
by Keith Phipps review