Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1962: Peter Sellers in Lolita

Peter Sellers did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Clare Quilty in Lolita.

Now looking at Peter Sellers's performance in Lolita at its most straight forward seems in line with what he was most known for before his work with Stanley Kubrick, and perhaps in general is still best known for which is broad comedy. This should not sound as though I am being dismissive in this regard as there's nothing to hand wave about Sellers's performance here in that regard either. In each of Seller's substantial scenes he takes upon a slightly different personality and accent as he interacts with the always perplexed Humbert Humbert (James Mason). In his first scene there is a moment in which Sellers reads back Humbert's rather serious letter in cranky cowboy voice, and Sellers is indeed hilarious as he wheezes his way through the man's mocking of Humbert. In one of his later appearances Sellers appears as a supposed school psychiatrist and does a rather expected Sigmund Freud parody, heavy accent and all. That's rather fine as Sellers again proves to be comedic gold as he says his somewhat ridiculous mumbo jumbo with such equally absurd, yet still oddly convicted, delivery.

My favorite scene of his, in terms of being extremely funny, is when Sellers appears to Humbert at a hotel and claims to be part of the police officers convention which is also staying there. Sellers is dynamite in this scene in how flawless his timing is as he delivers his long line of oddly stringed together words as a man, just a normal guy who just wants to talk about normal world events to another guy with a normal looking face. His hastened manner of speaking which seems only to become faster as the scene goes on is so weirdly spellbinding as well as so humorous. Then there is of course the rest of the opening sequence which again is comedic magic for Sellers as he plays off so well against Mason's intense performance. Just about everything Sellers does is worth a laugh as he goes about talking and keeps changing subjects, while Humbert is obviously quite focused on a single topic. Almost every second of Sellers's performance here is pure joy when looked upon in the simplest sense, as Sellers is indeed as funny as you'd expect him to be as these various strange character. Of course Sellers is only playing one character, and his intent isn't quite so simple.

Every time we Sellers he is playing Clare Quilty. Now this is not a secret since we are properly introduced to Quilty and everything. This is in plain sight as he evens dons the disguises yet it is quite obvious it's Sellers to us, though Humbert is completely in the dark about that as well as what Quilty's purposes are. Well the truth about Quilty is that he is quite interested in, just as Humbert is interested in, Humbert's step-daughter the titular Lolita (Sue Lyon). Of course by interested in I mean in one of the worst possible ways an older man could be interested in a teenage girl. With this in mind Sellers's work adds more than a few layers past just already being hilarious. The scenes where Quilty disguises himself are not just Quilty being strange, but rather Quilty actively manipulating Humbert for his own ends. Sellers in these scenes actually has this definite incisiveness through his eyes and his words as he's trying to scare Humbert into taking a certain action as well as seems to be trolling him just a bit. There's a more than a little sadistic glee underlying these scenes that Sellers realizes in particularly effective fashion as he crafts Quilty into far more than a comedic distraction building towards when the true purpose of Quilty is revealed within the story.

Now Quilty has other appearances throughout the film, often quite briefly as you might just see him hidden in the background or to the side of the center of the frame. Sellers's exceptional as his demeanor in these moments develops Quilty as not only an enigmatic figure, but also almost has a  demonic like presence as he stalks Humbert and Lolita through every move. There is something particularly remarkable as Sellers is so off-putting, and no not exactly in the way you'd expect, even through only his voice when Quilty makes a rather accusatory phone call to Humbert. It's interesting in that Sellers actually in a way confuses the viewer as much as Quilty confuses Humbert. The reason being we kind of know who Quilty is since the first scene of the film is when Humbert goes over to murder him. In this scene Sellers shows who Quilty is when he's not on task as stalker so to speak, which is just hedonistic creep. Sellers does not shy away from that fact in least yet is outstanding since he actually managed to shift the perspective of Quilty throughout the film through his portrayal of Quilty's various disguises. This is amazing work as Sellers can't even pigeonhole himself here. This is indeed a great comedic turn, yet he's equally disturbing in the role as well. He even manages to make Quilty slightly sympathetic in the opening scene by subtly portraying some honest fear and unease in Quilty as he goes about mocking Humbert while knowing death is not far away. None of this really should work but all of it does because of Sellers's fantastic performance.

53 comments:

Luke Higham said...

At Last, Sellers gets a 5. :)

tahmeed chowdhury said...

YESSSS!!!! I really hope he takes the year, even if the length of the review doesn't really indicate it.

Anonymous said...

Amazing performance.
Louis: Would you also classify Cooper and Peck as actors who also play themselves?

Robert MacFarlane said...

Peck certainly chose characters that fit his personality as Hollywood's most vocal liberal of that era. Cooper strikes me more as someone who just lacked range.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin, Anonymous and RatedRStar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myyDScOEWOc

Robert MacFarlane said...

Please let that be good.

Alex Marqués said...

With Fassbender and Vikander, the expectations are undoubtedly high.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Of course I always like going back to the Jackie Robinson story to show that playing one self isn't so easy. However I don't think that was the case for Peck. Some of his role he seemed to be channeling possibly his own personality like Gentleman's Agreement. Peck I don't think can really be accused that at all simply because he gave some rather tranformative performances throughout his entire career with A Duel in the Sun, Moby Dick, and of course The Boys From Brazil. Even his best performance To Kill Mockingbird is subtly so. Cooper I'll even argue a bit for in that being able to channel your own personality in a compelling fashion is nothing to sniff at to begin with, but I'd say even Cooper was not simply playing himself through the evidence of putting his work in High Noon against Ball of Fire.

RatedRStar said...

Luke: Looks very good =D.

Anonymous said...

Louis: So do you think Peck's performance in Mockingbird was a rather transformative performance? I disagree. Peck once said that Atticus Finch was kind of like him.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Looks promising enough with Fassbender and Vikander.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

I said subtly for a reason. There is a definite modesty that Peck brings with Atticus that is not as readily apparent in his other "righteous man" performances. Past that though Peck does not carry himself as he does in other films. He quietly suggests the age of Atticus that would be fitting for the sort of older southern gentleman was suppose to be. Compare the way he physically carries himself in Mockingbird to Cape Fear. They are both from the same year but his manner in each is very different.

Anonymous said...

Louis: What other actors would you say play themselves? Gable, Powell and Niven?

Calvin Law said...

Luke: Hope Fassbender will be great, I want to make up for knocking him out of my top 5 by giving him a win/close to a win next year.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: I feel he has a better chance winning an overall for The Snowman than for this film, but I hope he does give another great performance. I will say that even though Hardy, Foster, Isaac, Gyllenhaal and Phoenix have all hit higher heights for me & Louis, he's been consistently great and is an actor that I could always rely on giving a good performance at the very least and that's why I love him.

I hope he does manage to give that Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler/Hardy in The Revenant-esque performance at some point in the future for myself, as well as Louis.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: He's got plenty of time to achieve that though. :)

Alex Marqués said...

For me, Fassbender reached the same heights as them with Shame and Macbeth. I like Foster a great deal but I feel that he still has to give his greatest performance in a movie that really gives him the chance to do that.

Anonymous said...

Luke: What, you don't think Fassbender hasn't reached great heights like the rest of the other actors? 12 Years A Slave, Shame, Hunger and Macbeth show to me that he has achieved great heights.

Luke Higham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: He was terrific in those films and his performance in Macbeth (#13) missed out on my top ten, as well as Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis (#11).

What I really meant was that he has yet to give a performance that would get in to a top ten of the decade for me.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Don't take it as if I suddenly turned against him, I've loved him ever since he turned up in that Guinness commercial, all those years ago.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I never implied you were against him.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: That's alright. :)

Are there any performances that you're really anticipating for 2016.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Well, you know. The ones who are likely to be nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: I still don't think Fassbender's getting nominated this year.
Off the top of my head:
Michael Fassbender - The Light Between Oceans, Trespass Against Us and Assassin's Creed
Rebecca Hall - Christine
Nate Parker - The Birth Of A Nation
Michael Keaton - The Founder
Alden Ehrenreich - Hail, Caesar!
Tom Hardy - Taboo (TV)
Michael Shannon - Midnight Special
Casey Affleck - Manchester By The Sea
Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson - Silence
Andrew Garfield - Hacksaw Ridge
Mark Rylance - The BFG
The Cast of The Witch

Anonymous said...

Luke: I'm not expecting Fassbender to give a great performance in a video game adaptation.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: I only put it in there, because it's another Kurzel collaboration and I do agree that it's most likely to be a good performance from him.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Remember that question you asked to me about if Chaney would have made the transition to sound? I'll add something more: Chaney Jr. wouldn't have a career in film.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: I think you're probably right. :(

Anonymous said...

Luke: Chaney Sr. wanted Jr. to work as a businessman. But I'm gonna say that I vastly prefer the elder Chaney to the younger Chaney.

Anonymous said...

Luke: If he had lived, I ponder if he would have done accents and stuff like that.

Anonymous said...

Louis: thoughts on the following movies?
Dogville
Rosemary's Baby
Harold & Maude
Paris, Texas

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Me too.

My final Oscar predictions (All 24 categories)
Picture: Spotlight
Director: Inarritu
Acting: DiCaprio, Stallone, Larson, Vikander
Writing: The Big Short and Spotlight
Animated Feature: Inside Out
Animated Short: Prologue
Foreign Language: Son Of Saul
Live Action Short: Shok
Documentary: Amy
Documentary Short: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres Of The Shoah
Original Score: The Hateful Eight
Original Song: Spectre
Sound Mixing & Editing: The Revenant
Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road
Cinematography: The Revenant
Makeup & Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road
Costume: Mad Max: Fury Road
Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Visual Effects: Mad Max: Fury Road

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Would've been very interesting to see how his career developed beyond the silent era.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I'll be overjoyed if Morricone wins Original Score.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I'm honestly not bothered that John Wayne has gotten four 5's.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Me neither, though I've mentioned many times before, that I'm completely fine with any performance getting a five from Louis.

Anonymous said...

Luke: I enjoy most of Wayne's westerns, although I love when he gets to play more complex characters.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Which actors do you predict will eventually get their first fives in the bonus rounds?

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous:
Oliver Reed (The Devils)
Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt)
Peter Mullan (Tyrannosaur)
Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur)
Tilda Swinton (Probably We Need To Talk About Kevin)
Ellen Burstyn (Requiem For A Dream)
Vanessa Redgrave (The Devils)
Anthony Quayle (Ice Cold In Alex)
Michael Redgrave (The Browning Version)

Anonymous said...

Luke: I haven't requested this performance yet, but I think it will get a 5, and that performance is Karloff in The Body Snatcher.

RatedRStar said...

Luke: I couldn't believe I forgot to put Al Pacino for Panic In Need Park on my bonus list lol (boots Albert Finney out) =D.

Anonymous said...

RatedRStar: For 1970 Lead, I suggest Peter Sellers in Hoffman.

Calvin Law said...

Perhaps Trevor Howard in Outcast of the Islands too, if Louis gets round to it :)

Alex Marqués said...

Louis is going to review actresses for the bonus rounds?
By the way, I finally saw The Immigrant. What a beautiful film...

Luke Higham said...

Alex: No, he'll be watching those films/performances during the bonus rounds.

Alex Marqués said...

Okey. Is anyone registered in Letterboxd?

Anonymous said...

Louis: What are your ratings and thoughts on:
Lillian Gish in The Comedians and The Unforgiven
Eva Marie Saint in A Hatful of Rain
Dean Martin in The Young Lions
Fred MacMurray in The Son of Flubber
Richard Burton in Cleopatra and The V.I.P.s

GM said...

Alex: @gusth

Anonymous said...

Louis I've just watched The Others and oh my god you have to see it. I think you'd really like it (also, Kidman is brilliant)

Alex Marqués said...

The Others is a really cool film, great atmosphere.

Luke Higham said...

Saw Triple 9, I thought it was quite unsatisfying.
Ejiofor - 4
Affleck - 3
Mackie - 3.5
Harrelson - 3
Paul - 3
Reedus - 2.5
Winslet - 3
Collins Jr. - 3.5

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Niven certainly did not do so in Separate Tables. Powell did not do so in The Last Command, and watch any of Gable's early gangster turns.

Anonymous:

Gish - The Comedians - 2.5(The film very poorly utilizes its ensemble. She just mostly there until she gets a horrified reaction which is fine, but amounts to little in the scheme of the film)

The Unforgiven - 3(She's just fine her in offering the normal motherly role you'd expect, but with a certain ferocity beneath it all that suggests the secret her character is hiding)

Saint - (Almost hard to see her through the histrionics of her co-stars, but she pulls through the best she can with an honest performance. I can't say she balances things out but she at least manages to make something seem genuine within the film)

Martin - 3(Martin's story seemed so slight against Clift's but I felt he brought a nice bit of charm to his performance while developing a nice bit of chemistry with Clift as well)

MacMurray - 2.5(From what I can tell is if you've seen one goofy comedy Fred MacMurray performance you've seen them all. He gives his normal semi aloof yet oddly confident routine, that's okay I guess, but nothing special either)

Burton - Cleopatra - 2(A bit like the Robe actually where he goes from sort of bland too outright overcooked in a matter of seconds. Then again anyone not named Roddy McDowall seems so awkward in that film)

The V.I.P.s - 2.5(Standard boring Burton. Not outright terrible, but quite ineffective)