The Great Scenes: “Two Normal Guys” from LOLITA

Movie: Lolita (1962)

Spoiler Level: Moderate to High

The Setup: Professor Humbert (James Mason) has run off with his step-daughter Lolita to hide from potential suspicion after the death of his wife (Lolita’s mother). Meanwhile, Humbert and Lolita have been quietly pursued by a strange and mysterious man named Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers), who like Humbert has developed an unhealthy and illegal infatuation for Lolita. Humbert, completely unaware of the existence of true identity of Quilty, goes out to the porch for some air after a tense and uncomfortable moment in the hotel room with Lolita and is soon joined by Quilty, who is posing as a policeman at the hotel for a local policemen’s convention.

Why It’s Great: At this point in the film, all we really know is that Quilty has his eye on Lolita but we don’t know anything about his specific plans or intentions. In fact, Quilty himself doesn’t seem to have much of a plan when he heads out onto the porch and the dialog he comes out with is so brilliantly weird and awkward that it couldn’t possibly have been anything other than an ad lib from Sellers. Director Stanley Kubrick‘s decision to let this unpredictably bizarre moment play out in order to further confuse the audience as to what Quilty may be up to is one of many strokes of brilliance Kubrick makes, along with allowing Sellers to turn this fairly minor character into an acting showcase for Sellers.

Quilty’s obsession with trying to appear normal quickly turns into truly abnormal normal (“Sorry, I get so carried away being so normal and everything”) and I particularly love the brilliant comic touch of Quilty going overboard with references to a made-up acquaintance (George Swine, the night manager) in a desperate attempt to keep Humbert on the hook. In addition to providing a great moment of tension and confusion within the story, this scene stands alone almost as a kind of comedy sketch, two great actors performing a truly strange and remarkable exchange.

“You have a most interesting face goodnight.”