A daring drama, full of irony and nutty relationships. At the center would be Lolita, very well portrayed by Sue Lyon. Shelley Winters, as her mom Charlotte, sees her more as a rival than as a daughter. She jealously calls her “a homely child.” On the other hand, James Mason, who could be a surrogate parent to her, wants Lolita as a lover.
Charlotte’s problem is that she’s stuck at the same emotional level as Lolita. She says she still “feels young” but has become a pretentious bore with her “Van Gawk” Van Gogh. Humbert’s relationship with Charlotte is an ironic inversion of his affair with Lolita. He could care less about Charlotte, but uses her to get closer to Lolita. As much as he adores Lolita, she uses him to suit herself.
Her character can’t really be faulted. She’s certainly aware of the effect she has on guys of all ages; but she’s a confident outgoing teen who likes to have fun with people…sometimes a little too much fun. Humbert knows exactly what he’s doing, even if he doesn’t know why. We don’t get to see what his ex-wife was like, so we don’t know why he ends up in strange relationships.
He must be miserable when he’s with Charlotte, and he’s never really secure with Lolita either. Even if she weren’t underage and technically his stepdaughter, she’s so mercurial she would annoy him anyway. In some ways, though, she’s the most mature one. She’s a little unsure of herself, but isn’t afraid to try new activities, and fits in well with all of her peers and mentors (Humbert being a special case, to say the least). Her most poignant line “I want you to be proud, really proud of me,” even though it would better said to her mom instead of Humbert, shows that she feels good about herself.
By the end, she’s very much a young adult. She still seems cheery, even with the huge responsibility of marriage, running a house, and carrying a baby. In these rather desperate circumstances, one has the impression that she’ll be fine. Strangely enough, when Humbert comes to visit, he seems to almost fit in. He’s given the respect due to an older relative who’s also a benefactor. But she wisely refuses to junk everything and run off with him.
The one who seems out of place is Peter Sellers. He tends to throw the drama off-track with his idiosyncratic characters. The scene at the hotel when he pretends to be a cop is especially distracting. It’s amusing for a few seconds, but he just goes on and on. He’s a sort of grotesque foil for Humbert. I don’t see the point of the frame story either. Why would Humbert kill him? Sure, he’s a ‘rival’ of sorts; but by this point, Humbert has seen Lolita settle down permanently. Every guy but her husband is banished to the fantasyland she once lived in.
Another bit I couldn’t figure out was why Humbert would wait to tell Lolita that her mom was dead. It seemed unnecessarily cruel to make up a story about her being in the hospital. It’s also odd that Lolita spends the total of one night grieving.
Anyway, a really well-made film on a difficult topic with some fine performances. 8/10.