Lolita (1962)

The trailer for Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita features a montage of the lighter moments of the film, and the very catchy pop instrumental that accompanies Lolita Haze’s introduction in the film, playing behind scores of people echoing the same question: “how did they ever make a movie of Lolita?”

Making a film of Nabokov’s novel must have been difficult for a number of reasons, the greatest of course being the theme of sexual obsession with an underage girl. Reportedly the producer considering forcing Kubrick to end the film with Humbert and Lolita marrying in a state with a low legal marriage age, and essentially living happily ever after. This of course would have ruined the tragic nature of the novel.

Casting the film was just as big a challenge, as it seems no one wanted to be involved in the film. Cary Grant, then nearing his retirement from the screen, was reportedly offered the role of Humbert and not only turned it down, but was indignant he was even asked. David Niven also passed on the role, and James Mason, who was Kubrick’s first choice, finally made himself available. Disney star Hayley Mills refused the title role, either at the insistence of her father or Walt Disney himself. Kubrick obviously loved working with Peter Sellers and delighted in having him do various voices and characters, and must have thought that putting Sellers in the role of Humbert’s nemesis Claire Quilty was a stroke of genius, but the story is shifted too much in the direction of what is a ghost in the background of Nabokov’s story. It has been noted that both the first and last word of Nabokov’s Lolita is “Lolita,” but the first and last word of Kubrick’s Lolita is “Quilty,” and the movie might have been better titled as such. But the real coup in the casting is not Sellers, but putting Shelly Winters into the role of Lolita’s demanding, clinging mother, and she perfectly personifies the way Humbert Humbert views her in the novel. Although Winters disappears from the film just before it reaches the halfway mark, she is really what is remembered after the film is over.

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