Both the Stanley Kubrick 1962 and Adrian Lyne 1997 versions of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel “Lolita” are alike and different in many ways. Both versions were and still are very controversial just like the book, but Kubrick’s is a tad comical at times and Lyne’s is nothing but serious.
Both are about a middle aged college professor named Humbert Humbert that moves to a New England after accepting a teaching job there. He is hesitant to move into the house owned by a middle class widow named Charlotte Haze, until he sees her teenage daughter Dolores and becomes instantly attracted to her. Humbert and Dolores engage in a secret relationship, until Charlotte finds his diary and learns about his affection for her. She forbids him to see Lo (Dolores) and after she commits suicide, they continue their relationship, he pretending to be her father in public but lover behind closed doors.
Kubrick’s Lolita was a blond haired, grey eyed 14 year Sue Lyon and Lyne’s was a blue eyed, dar red haired 15 year old Dominique Swain. In 1962 Humbert was portrayed by James Mason and 1997 portrayed by Jeremy Irons. Charlotte was acted by Shelley Winters in ‘62 and Melanie Griffith in ‘97. Both films are very well done. The stars are very good in both as well.
Sue Lyon was a perfect Lolita. She had the young, yet seductive look, was sometimes a seductress and sometimes a spoiled brat. Dominique Swain had the seductiveness and spoiled brat down, but not so much the look in my opinion, she was rather plain looking. Lyne gave her a retainer, that she took out to eat and kiss. Both Lolitas chew a lot of bubble gum, back talk their mother and try to pursue Humbert without anyone else knowing, they are extremely sly just like he is.
James Mason does a fine job as Humbert, but looks almost old-man like. Jeremey Irons is quite better as the same character, making him more believable and less angry and maybe a bit more dirty minded too. Mason’s character gets angry easily, Irons’ is a bit more calm, although he does get angry as well, just not as much as Mason.
Shelley Winters did a great job as Charlotte Haze. Melanie did good herself, even though she’s not in the film much. Melanie should have had a bigger role and not been killed off so soon. The story of the short lived marriage of Charlotte and Humbert is longer in the ‘62 version.
In the ‘97 film, Lo is sent to summer camp to get her away from Humbert. In the ‘62 film, she goes to a school formal dance. But in both, after her mother dies, Humbert tries to cover up the suicide by taking her to a hotel where they sleep together.
Kubrick almost makes light of the relationship at times, adding jokes here and there. Lyne’s film is serious from beginning to end. The car driving scenes are longer in Kubrick’s and Lo and Hum fight more. In Lyne’s, their relationship seems deeper and more real and not quite as sexual.
Acting wise, it’s pretty close, both films are well acted and well written. Both stirred up controversy, for the overall story and age of both Doloreses. The rating PG-13, wasn’t around until 1984, so the original had to either be cut or banned in theaters and it was given an “X” the rating in The U.K. The ‘97 film was shown on Showtime before being theatrically released. The films and the novel have inspired other films like Manhattan and American Beauty. Racy films just like Alfie and The Graduate.
Lolita is a story of love, lust, incest, secrecy and murder. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and some fans prefer Kubrick, others Lyne, or just the book. This story has inspired many other racy stories and films involving incest, huge age gaps, or both. Is Nabakov’s story inappropriate? Of course. But it is truly one of a kind and a masterpiece. The novel, along with the films, may be an acquired taste, but they will still be talked about for generations.