Showtime Picks up Lyne's Lolita

Like its nymphet namesake, Lolita seems to create nothing but trouble for those who fall under its spell. Director Adrian Lyne's cinematic interpretation of Vladimir Nabokov's still-controversial novel about a middle-aged man's obsession with a teenage girl spent a year in the Hollywood revolving door because no major studio was willing to risk a distribution deal---until now. Showtime Networks, a cable-TV unit of Viacom, has picked up the film's US rights.

Showtime plans to broadcast the film sometime in August and then try to place it in theaters nationwide. This reverse sequence might be a first for the film industry, whose big releases always debut in theaters. The Wall Street Journal mentioned that Showtime paid "considerably less" than French studio Pathe SA's $25 million asking price. Lolita's production costs reportedly totaled $58 million.

Featuring music by Ennio Morricone, the film stars Jeremy Irons as the tragically smitten Humbert Humbert and Dominique Swain as his under-age love goddess. It has spooked US studios, who fear legal repercussions if the film is found to violate the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996.

Lolita has already played in Russia, France, and Italy without apparent ill effects, and it will soon open in Britain. Those who have seen it, such as Time magazine's Richard Schickel, who reviewed it in that publication's March 23 issue, say filmgoers have little to fear from Lolita and everything to gain. Schickel says Lyne "honorably, faithfully" follows "Nabokov's narrative line." He goes on to say that Irons' portrayal of Humbert is "gently wistful," and Swain's performance is "marvelous . . . a mercurial blend of the guileful and the guileless."

Some things never change: Stanley Kubrick's 1962 version of Lolita---considered a classic by many film fans---encountered as many obstacles in its day as Lyne's has recently. Kubrick had to leap through many directorial hoops to make a film that told Nabokov's story without running afoul of the strict censorship of the early 1960s. Sue Lyon, who starred opposite James Mason in Kubrick's film, was 16 when it was released. She wasn't allowed to see it in the theater.

Lolita, the novel, was completed in 1955. In it, Nabokov demonstrated his considerable command of the English language and his considerable insight into American culture. He then spent four years searching for a publisher gutsy enough to take it on.