L—-a (1962)

MGM

Pretty much the epitome of a movie that couldn’t be made today. We can’t even print the title without setting off filters at some of the sites that publish our stories. But the film is a pleasure because of how elegantly director Stanley Kubrick balances grim humor, tragedy and drama while somehow staying within the bounds of decency.

Adapted from the supposedly unfilmable Vladimir Nabakobv novel that famously doesn’t use a single dirty word, the film stars James Mason as the pathetic Humbert, who constantly expects understanding and sympathy for his repugnant predilections and is instead met with disgust — especially from the audience. But Kubrick is skillful enough not to jab us in the ribs or tell us how to feel — the facts speak for themselves.

Sue Lyon, 15 when the film premiered, plays the 12-year-old title character with dignity and verve, selling us on the awful tragedy of her situation without melodrama. And Peter Sellers is a jolt of nasty fun as Quilty, Humbert’s main antagonist, who is every bit as gross as he is, but even sneakier.

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