Kubrick was forced to make “Lolita” overseas due to the controversial subject matter. The restrictive Hays morality code had kept sex out of Hollywood for decades and only started to loosen its grip right around the time “Lolita” was made. When Kubrick first acquired the rights to the book in the mid-50s, it made sense to seek funding for such a suggestive film overseas.
“[T]he only funds I could raise for the film had to be spent in England,” Kubrick explained to Joseph Glemis, per Scraps from the Loft. “There’s been such a revolution in Hollywood’s treatment of sex over just the past few years that it’s easy to forget that when I became interested in Lolita a lot of people felt that such a film couldn’t be made – or at least couldn’t be shown. As it turned out, we didn’t have any problems, but there was a lot of fear and trembling.”
Despite filming in England, Kubrick still planned to release the film in America. Consequently, the strict production code and Catholic Legion of Decency hung like a spectre over the set. These concerns forced the director to make ‘safer’ and less overtly sexual choices than Nabokov had in the original text.
“If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did,” the director admitted. “But that is the only major area where I believe the film is susceptible to valid criticism.”