It's a perversity bordering on moral vacuity to make a comedy tinged with tragedy rather than a tragedy tinged with comedy out of Nabokov's novel. It doesn't feel nearly serious-minded enough, as though it took inspiration from many of the novel's awful cover designs, rather than a careful reading of the text. James Mason is so wretched and diminished here and Sue Lyons so human, however, that it is worth watching.
Almost all Kubrick's movies are adaptations, and this is the one time he bit off more than he could chew. The last few pages of the novel are among the most beautiful I ever read; its screen equivalent is out of steam. But he did create a movie of his own: the sickest screwball comedy, a hilarious battle of refined ego and repulsive id, and one of those films that bridges Old Hollywood and the free-for-all to come.
Kubrick's Lolita is a brilliant satire of the underlining depravity that overtook an american society drunk on postwar optimism. The 50s were a beautiful illusion, selling expansion, a booming economy, white picket fences and the american dream. In that regard, Professor Humbert mirrors the deception with acidic accuracy: the erudite and sophisticated upper classer harboring a terrible desire. Humbert still exists.
In all honesty, a bit of a mess. Were it placed before PoG and Spartacus in Kubrick's filmography, it may have chimed better, but it's a backward step: the leads (Sue Lyon aside) are terribly miscast, and for a control freak it's interesting that Kubrick essentially lets Sellers ruin his picture - only subsequently would their respective geniuses gel. The result is weak, compromised and Kubrick's worst 'major' film.
Kubrick's direction is incredible, but if it wasn't for his skills, this would have been a dud. Censorship really butchered what this movie could have been. What's up with Quilty being a main character? What's up with Lolita looking 20 y.o.? Disappointed.
This is the only Kubrick film I can think of where I might not have been able to guess that he had directed it. Usually his films just have that stamp, like most great directors do. Not to say this makes it bad, it’s just up against stiff competetion. But it’s not fair to judge films against each other like that so I will say what’s positive, and that is Peter Sellers and James Mason.