Director Adrian Lyne creates new version of the novel thatís even more faithful to its source material


ďHow Did They Ever Make a Movie of Lolita?Ē proclaimed one of the initial ad posters for Stanley Kubrickís 1962 film. How, indeed? Originally published in 1955, Vladimir Nabokovís novel of the same name, about a middle-aged manís obsessive relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, generated instant controversy and almost as immediate acclaim.

Today, itís considered a masterpiece of 20th-century literature.

By 1962, Kubrick had only three major films to his credit (The Killing, Paths of Glory and Spartacus), so undertaking a film version of Lolita was risky. Enlisting Nabokov himself to do the screenplay and careful to address the concerns of various watchdog organizations, Kubrick pulled off yet another classic. Fourteen-year-old Sue Lyon makes an impressive debut as the title character, but the filmís great performances belong to James Mason as Humbert Humbert (the stepfather) and Peter Sellers as his nemesis Quilty.

Itís ironic that Nabokov won the filmís only Oscar nomination for his screenplay because much of his script was usurped by Kubrick and Sellers. 

Encouraged by the director to improvise, Sellers brings much of the novelís rich comic undertones to the film, this despite the unsavory subject matter of pedophilia. Two years later, of course, Sellers would absolutely dominate Kubrickís Dr. Strangelove.

Thirty-five years after Kubrickís Lolita, director Adrian Lyne undertook a new version of the novel thatís even more faithful to its source material. 

The result is a beautiful film (anything but salacious or gratuitous), which created such an uproar that it went practically unseen on American screens. Rejected by stateside distributors, the film finally received its major premiere on Showtime, then was unceremoniously consigned to home video, where, even today, it is fairly difficult to find.

Set in the í40s (like the novel) as opposed to Kubrickís í50s, Lyneís film (scripted by Stephen Schiff) restores the novelís more straightforward narrative chronology. (Kubrick opened with the end of the novel and the killing of Quilty.) The first-person narrative, again closely adhering to the novel, does more than set the scene, as in Kubrickís version. Humbert, for instance, recalls an important relationship from his teen years (again, right out of the novel), which helps establish and explain his fixation on young girls. Thus, we see more into Humbertís tortured soul and his growing self-hatred in tandem with his love for Lolita. As a result, the tone is far more elegiac and tragic than the earlier version, a fact underlined by the epilogue, in which we learn not only that Humbert dies in prison (as in Kubrickís film) but that Lolita herself succumbs in childbirth on Christmas Day (curiously omitted in the first film).

Dominique Swain, 14 years old at the time of filming, is absolutely brilliant as the titular character. The same is true, not unexpectedly, of Jeremy Lyons. And Frank Langellaís Quilty is ominous and threatening, never funny.

Evocative, elegiac and profoundly moving, Adrian Lyneís Lolita is an unjustly ignored masterpiece of important filmmaking.

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