This week on TCM Underground: Some Call It Loving (1973) and Lolita (1962)

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Neither of the features that comprise our TCM Underground lineup this weekend is new to Turner Classic Movies but the pairing of them is likely to raise eyebrows and emotions in light of certain current events — in particular, a highly-publicized court case involving a California man’s sexual assault of an unconscious woman (and his unconscionably lenient sentencing) and the ascension of the first female nominee for the office of President of the United States. Both SOME CALL IT LOVING (aka SLEEPING BEAUTY) and LOLITA are stories about the possession of women, the control of women, the having of women; both were  written by men, presumably for men. What each film says, ultimately, about the never untroubled relationship between the sexes is less important than the questions it raises about the ever-widening gap between male expectations of womanhood and what life actually has to offer.

250full-some-call-it-loving-artwork“Spectators who like to keep their fairy tales innocent, their pornography sordid, their allegories obvious and their dreams intact,” wrote critic Jonathan Rosenbaum in the pages of Film Comment in 1975, “are bound to be disconcerted by James B. Harris’ haunting SOME CALL IT LOVING… which pursues the improbabilities of dream logic to clarify rather than mystify, and tough-mindedly concerns itself with the processes and consequences of dreaming.” At that point, Rosenbaum was championing a movie that had screened to considerable favor at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and had received high marks from the French critics only to tank dismally upon the occasion of its American premiere.  Buried by its distributor, SOME KIND OF LOVING nosedived into celluloid limbo, resurfacing eventually on VHS tape in a big box eyesore that seemed to occupy every dusty bottom shelf of every video store in the land; about the only attention paid to the film in retrospect came from Mr. Skin’s Skincyclopedia: The A to Z Guide to Finding Your Favorite Actresses Naked.

1289306107_1c79ad380bBritish writer John Collier’s Fancies and Goodnights had been published in 1951 and his elegantly ironic stories had drawn from literary critics favorable comparisons to Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl. Numbered among the tales collected in that volume was “Sleeping Beauty,” the story of a dissolute Englishman with more pedigree than liquid assets who nonetheless makes the capital acquisition of a sideshow somnambulist, a beautiful young woman seemingly straight out of the eponymous fairytale. Harris saw in the story a parable about desire and denial and began crafting what would be his sophomore directorial effort, relocating the action from a Regency house in southern England to a castle poised above the craggy coast Southern California. To play his conflicted protagonist, Harris cast TV actor Zalman King, then best known as the star of the short-lived THE YOUNG LAWYERS, a weekly legal drama that had run for a single season on CBS.  As the object of King’s affection, Harris took a gamble on Tisa Farrow, kid sister to ROSEMARY’S BABY star Mia Farrow, who had had an ornamental role in René Clément’s 1972 heist film AND HOPE TO DIE (1972). Supporting roles were doled out to comic Richard Pryor (who had not yet established himself as an actor), British actress Carol White, and former THE MUNSTERS trouper Pat Priest.

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Principal photography got underway late in 1972 under the working title SLEEPING BEAUTY, until the threat of legal action from Walt Disney Productions prompted Harris to go with the interim title DREAM GIRL before settling on SOME CALL IT LOVING. Shot at various compass points along the Pacific Coast Highway by Italian cinematographer Mario Tosi (whose picaresque career runs the gamut from the softcore 1964 “nudie cutie” SINDERELLA AND THE GOLDEN BRA and American International Pictures’ 1972 revenge-of-nature thriller FROGS to Brian DePalma’s CARRIE [1976] and Richard Rush’s THE STUNT MAN [1977]), SOME CALL IT LOVING plays like an American spin on the erotic works of such cult impresarios as Jess Franco and Jean Rollin or the sensual excesses of Bronx expatriate Radley Metzger, albeit channeled through the unmistakable aesthetic of James B. Harris. Very much the wild card in the deck of Harris’ brief but impressive directing CV, SOME CALL IT LOVING nonetheless reflects Harris’ abiding interest in the power of fantasy to by turns empower and destroy the dreamer.

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LOLITA still rankles; by design. Some years ago a feminist film blog gave the Nabokov novel a critical barracking (Deserved? Undeserved? You make the call.), which elicited some interesting responses in the comments section. While one kibitzer felt satisfied that Nabokov must have been an actual child rapist recording his predations behind the veil of fiction, another offered up the sketchy trivia that “Sue Lyon, the 14-year-old actress from the film version, had to leave the film business because of all the sicko attention she got and she is still living in hiding today.” I thought the latter a curious thing to say, given that Lyon went from LOLITA to a 20 year career in the entertainment industries on both North American and European continents — costarring with Richard Burton in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (1964), playing one of John Ford’s 7 WOMEN (1966), playing the leading lady to George C. Scott in THE FLIM-FLAM MAN (1967) and George Hamilton in EVEL KNIEVEL (1971), losing out on choice roles in BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) and THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (1968) and traveling abroad to star in such offbeat (but fascinating) Euro-cult offerings as Eloy de la Iglesia’s MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (aka CLOCKWORK TERROR, 1973) and José María Forqué’s AUTOPSY (aka TAROT, 1973), alongside fellow Hollywood expat Gloria Grahame — and has always been relatively easy to find; when she retreated to private life in the mid-70s, it was because she had had enough of the star treatment, of invasive journalists, of endless questions, of press junkets, and travel-for-work, and a life lived on display. Looking back on her career in the mid-80s in an interview for French television, Lyon proved sanguine and unimpressed by the need for some to believe LOLITA had been a traumatizing experience. “It was only a movie. You now, I didn’t have to have an affair with an old man, I only had to make a movie about it.” 

14 Responses This week on TCM Underground: Some Call It Loving (1973) and Lolita (1962)
Posted By Flora : June 8, 2016 5:44 pm

I have still not seen Some Call it loving, but I have seen Lolita more times than I can remember as I am a fan of Mason and Winters. Although I am also a fan of Sellers, I hat him in this film. I cannot tell whether it is his character (ie he was spot on) or his performance being bad, but for reasons basically related to that role, I find myself feeling more sympathy for mason than for Sellers and I know I would NOT have felt that way with the book.

I know that Mason was not by any means the first choice and I think I remember correctly that Mason chose to do this film because he loved to work a lot. Hence, he would play leads and small parts in great films, bad films and anything in between.

I am a big fan of Mason. Would I have ever seen Lolita more than once if I didn’t love him and Winters in general? Likely not.

As for politics outside of the films, I’ll leave that out here on this page as far as my comment is concerned. However, great article. Totally on topic and perfect timing.

Posted By Chris Wuchte : June 8, 2016 7:00 pm

Are we supposed to feel sympathy for Sellers’ character as opposed to Mason’s? I always thought the implication was that, in spite of the awfulness of what he’s doing, Humbert is convinced he’s in love with Lolita, while Quilty simply uses her and casts her aside once he’s done. By the end of the film (and I believe the book, as well) Humbert still wants to be with Dolores even though she’s no longer the nymph he once knew. For Quilty, that was likely the only reason he had any interest in her to begin with.

Plus, both the film and book imply that Quilty’s treatment of her was far more prurient than Humbert’s. Drugs, sex parties, pornographic films… both men were stealing her childhood, but it was Quilty that ripped it to shreds.

I agree, though, that there’s something off about Sellers’ performance. I’ve never been able to pinpoint what it is, it just never feels right to me.

Posted By Flora : June 8, 2016 7:19 pm

I have no idea how to really read The movie version of Lolita correctly because of Peter’s performance. I believe that if someone else portrayed Quilty – anyone else – I would have a different reaction to the film. I think I would be focusing on Lolita and not either of the men – or her mother. After all, the movie is called Lolita.

Posted By Autist : June 8, 2016 9:26 pm

Well, if you don’t like Peter Sellers’ Quilty, there’s always Frank Langella’s (Yikes!).

Posted By Flora : June 8, 2016 9:51 pm

I haven’t seen Frank’s version yet. Thanks for the warning.

Posted By Murphy’s Law : June 9, 2016 2:57 am

Flora,

that’s not really her name, it’s just what Humbert calls her. Humbert narrates the book and he’s the classic unreliable narrator.
It’s about his obsession.

Posted By Flora : June 9, 2016 3:31 am

Okay. I still have not read the book, although I have a book called Movies We Love by Frank Miller and a forward by Robert Osbourne about the making of movies and it lists the actors considered for Humbert before Mason:

Cary Grant – thought it would be bad for the industry. maybe not offered it at all
Olivier – turned it down
Noel Coward turned it down.

What I meant, more than anything, was that she is the main focus, not Quilty .

But yes, obsession in general is the point of the book. And yes, when the book is narrated, that’s the viewpoint you see, hence – another reason for focusing on James mason and might be the reason why I can’t stand Quilty.

However, it getting back to Sue Lyons the actress in the title role, she played a similar role in Night of the Iguana. I’ve seen this several times, more often than Lolita and I prefer this film. Too bad the actress could not outgrow this screen image.

Thanks, Murphy’s law for the information.

Posted By Thomas Zorthian : June 9, 2016 3:51 am

Just a slight correction for the record: The Young Lawyers aired on ABC, at a time when it was trying to appeal to young viewers (like myself; I was an avid viewer of the show when I was 17).

In my estimation, Lolita is second-tier Kubrick, but I used to watch The Young Lawyers. Anyway any Kubrick is valuable and worth viewing. I’ve never seen Some Call It Loving, but will DVR it.

Posted By Chris Wuchte : June 9, 2016 2:59 pm

The interesting thing about Langella’s performance, and that whole remake, is that it shows that dropping the humor and taking the story stone cold seriously doesn’t improve on things. That remake is one of the few films in my life that I stopped without finishing, something I’ve probably only done about a half dozen times in my life. And it wasn’t because I was offended, it was because I was bored out of my mind.

So I’m still not certain what Sellers could have done differently to make his performance work for me, since playing it seriously doesn’t seem to be the answer.

And I’m not sure a faithful adaptation would allow viewers to identify more with Lolita. As it is, the films allows more of her viewpoint to come through than the book ever did.

Posted By Flora : June 9, 2016 4:08 pm

Very interesting, Chris. Thanks for the further details and insight into the remake of Lolita, the book, and the original. I appreciate it.

Posted By Autist : June 9, 2016 4:37 pm

Chris Wuchte wrote: “The interesting thing about Langella’s performance, and that whole remake, is that it shows that dropping the humor and taking the story stone cold seriously doesn’t improve on things. That remake is one of the few films in my life that I stopped without finishing, something I’ve probably only done about a half dozen times in my life. And it wasn’t because I was offended, it was because I was bored out of my mind.”

Well, if you didn’t see the end of it, then you didn’t see the most “interesting” part of Langella’s performance, and you might have been offended.

Posted By kingrat : June 9, 2016 5:01 pm

The problem with Sellers’ performance is Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick fell in love with all the stuff Sellers was doing, and lets most of his scenes run on too long. With careful pruning, Sellers probably wouldn’t seem objectionable.

The original choice to play Lolita was Hayley Mills. The producer offered to give her parents (John Mills and Mary Hayley Bell) a Renoir if they would agree. Hayley Mills wanted to play the part, but her parents were not willing. No doubt the producers thought that having Pollyanna play Lolita would be especially mind-blowing. As Hayley Mills said, she didn’t know whether her career would have been better or worse if she had played Lolita, but it would have been different.

Posted By Flora : June 9, 2016 5:55 pm

Autist: Thanks for the further information on langella’s version. I will still look for it to compare.

Kingrat: Interesting about Haley Mills. No doubt John disapproved! I think I would have enjoyed her performance better. Yes, I understand your Kubrick- Sellers statement. Kubrick is hit and miss for me. Some I love, others I tolerate, others I have no intention of seeing such as Eyes Wide Shut.

To take this away from Lolita:

This reminds me of how Dick Van Dyke asked his friends not to see the film version of his hit Broadway turned movie musical Bye Bye Birdie. He was supposed to be the star. But the director fell in love with Ann-Margaret and re-edited the film.

Posted By detta : June 9, 2016 9:33 pm

I have to agree that the movie is much about Lolita than the book. I almost think if it were straight to the book, it would have been much more uncomfortable and disturbing, especially as a woman. Nabokov had a propensity to write about male desire for youth and there is an element of almost pedophilia to a lot of his work. My roommate took a class on his novels in college and she would come back from class a little more disgusted every day. Anyway, I think its a great set of movies to play and really makes you think about how women are thought about and portrayed in our movies and art.

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