Reinventing Lolita in MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (1973)


One of the most iconic images to emerge from the cinema in the 1960s is the figure of a young Sue Lyon, peering over her sunglasses at a leering James Mason in Stanley Kubrick’s LOLITA (1961). And I’m definitely not alone in my view. The Spanish genre director Eloy de la Iglesia must have agreed with me when he decided to cast Sue Lyon in his intriguing futuristic thriller, MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (aka CLOCKWORK TERROR; 1973). Eloy de la Iglesia’s film has often been labeled a low-budget and poorly constructed Spanish knock-off of Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) and it’s easy to understand why. But its meta-referencing goes way beyond A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and tips its hat in equal measure to Kubrick’s LOLITA. In fact, MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD is really an homage to Kubrick himself and possibly one of the most interesting films released in Spain during the early ‘70s.

Defining MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD as “A CLOCKWORK ORANGE rip-off” and lumping it together with simpleminded genre exercises like Alan Birkinshaw’s KILLER’S MOON (1978), which also references Kubrick’s film, ignores the movie’s wider scope of ideas that were the director’s trademarks. The Spanish filmmaker Eloy de la Iglesia was obsessed with themes of sexual identity, class structure and human rights following in the aftermath of Franco’s reign of terror in his home country. And as a gay man, Eloy de la Iglesia was particularly sensitive to the plight of homosexuals who suffered greatly under Franco’s regime. This unique director churned out some of the more interesting Spanish horror films produced in the early ‘70s including CANNIBAL MAN (1973) and THE GLASS CEILING (1971). And today he’s often credited for his award winning dramas and comedies. His reputation as a talented and important director seems to be growing every year in Spain while here in the states scholars like Marsha Kinder (author of Blood Cinema: The Reconstruction of National Identity in Spain) have championed his work calling him a maverick and comparing him to celebrated auteurs like Luis Bunuel and Pedro Almodovar. And I know that my fellow Morlock, Richard H. Smith is extremely fond of Eloy de la Iglesia’s films. But the general response to MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD has been decidedly mixed and occasionally outright dismissive even among genre fans.

The film follows multiple storylines that end up colliding in unexpected ways. One of them involves a gang of violent thugs that resemble the band of droogs in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. This group of young men wear matching motorcycle outfits and roam around the city at night in a dune buggy terrorizing hapless citizens. When a disagreement breaks out between the gang they turn on one of their own who goes by the name of David (played by Robert Mitchum’s son, actor Christopher Mitchum) and he’s forced to leave the group and fend for himself in the increasingly hostile blue world. But before he does he participates in a brutal assault on a family that’s getting ready to watch Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which is billed as a “symphony on the theme of violence.” The television eventually becomes an important character of its own in Eloy de la Iglesia’s film.

But before David’s story plays out we’re introduced to another character called Ana (Sue Lyon) as she watches her own television set advertising a “Blue Drink” that’s “the friendly drink of our times.” This is followed by a news report about a serial killer who is targeting boys between the ages of 17 and 25 with “tendencies towards homosexuality.” Ana seems indifferent towards the commercial as well as the news but her blank expression masks an unpleasant truth. Like the milk-plus drinks sold at the Korova Milk Bar in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, it’s natural to assume that Blue Drink is also laced with a drug that can “sharpen you up” and get you ready for a little “ultra-violence.” And as the film progresses it becomes clear that Ana really enjoys Blue Drink. She’s rarely seen without a glass of blue liquid in her hand so it should come as no surprise to viewers when it turns out that she’s also harboring violent tendencies and just might be the news worthy serial killer that’s been targeting young boys. But Ana also happens to be a care-giving nurse who works at a hospital with a handsome doctor named Victor played by Jean Sorrel (his name’s undoubtedly a reference to Victor Frankenstein and it’s important to note that a clip from 1957 film THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN appears in Stanley Kubrick’s LOLITA). Doctor Victor is experimenting on violent criminals and trying to make them productive members of society while he attempts to romance nurse Ana. But Ana isn’t interested in a normal relationship with Victor. She prefers spending her time buying comic pop art, watching TV and dressing up in an assortment of strange disguises. Throughout the film Sue Lyon’s Ana portrays various characters including an older woman who reads a copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita while she picks up a gigolo and she even dresses in drag to seduce a young man at a gay bar. Ana’s role-playing in MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD could easily be one more nod to Kubrick’s LOLITA adaptation where the character of Clare Quilty (played by Peter Sellers) used various disguises in order to seduce Lolita and confuse the other adults around her. This is incredibly telling when you consider the larger ideas that Eloy de la Iglesia was interested in exploring with his films. MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD defies easy categorization by mixing up genres (science fiction with giallo thrillers) and playing with viewer expectations. And by making Sue Lyon his muse, Eloy de la Iglesia hijacks Kubrick’s LOLITA and leaves the audience questioning their voyeuristic relationship with the cinema and its effect on our own sexual impulses. Eloy de la Iglesia‘s Lolita isn’t a fictional ideal of feminine beauty or a hapless victim of the male ego and Sue Lyon seems to get a kick out of exploiting her character. By the end of MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD it becomes apparent that Stanley Kubrick’s films have been thoroughly deconstructed and put back together in such an unusual way that Sue Lyon is able to completely redefine her celebrated ’60s role.

Once you know the political motivations behind Eloy de la Iglesia‘s films it’s easy to understand why the director was drawn towards Anthony Burgess’s original story and in many ways his adaptation of Burgess is the perfect response to Franco’s reign of terror in Spain. A Clockwork Orange takes a critical look at government control and its effect on our individual freedoms while exploring the human propensity towards violence and our complicated relationship with media and the arts. Therefore, MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD can be enjoyed as just another adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel, much like Andy Warhol’s VINYL (1965), or it can be enjoyed as one of the most fascinating meta movies ever produced in Spain. Critics like to compare MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD to Kubrick’s big-budgeted film without realizing that he wasn’t the first director to tackle Burgess’ work. But it’s also worth noting that Kubrick enjoyed making meta references in his own films. In fact, Kubrick’s LOLITA can be appreciated as an homage to Fritz Lang’s SCARLET STREET (1945).

MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (aka A CLOCKWORK TERROR) is available on DVD and Stanley Kubrick’s LOLITA is playing on TCM this afternoon. If you haven’t seen either film, I highly recommend making some time for them.

12 Responses Reinventing Lolita in MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (1973)
Posted By Christopher Williams : September 8, 2011 2:41 pm

I am a huge admirer of Spanish cinema in the 70′s. After Franco’s death in 1975 I know many film directors embraced the new relaxed censorship laws. Jess Franco most prominently. But a personal favourite film was directed by José Ramón Larraz the wonderfully surreal ‘La visita del vicio’ aka The Coming of Sin. I have not heard of Murder in the Blue World before, but after reading the above, I will seek it out and more work by this director. Sounds right up my street! Thanks for the great review.

Posted By Christopher Williams : September 8, 2011 2:41 pm

I am a huge admirer of Spanish cinema in the 70′s. After Franco’s death in 1975 I know many film directors embraced the new relaxed censorship laws. Jess Franco most prominently. But a personal favourite film was directed by José Ramón Larraz the wonderfully surreal ‘La visita del vicio’ aka The Coming of Sin. I have not heard of Murder in the Blue World before, but after reading the above, I will seek it out and more work by this director. Sounds right up my street! Thanks for the great review.

Posted By Medusa Morlock : September 8, 2011 3:23 pm

Great article, Kimberly!

I’m watching “Lolita” for the millionth time right now — thanks for the heads-up on “Murder in a Blue World” which I will check out sometime soon!

Posted By Medusa Morlock : September 8, 2011 3:23 pm

Great article, Kimberly!

I’m watching “Lolita” for the millionth time right now — thanks for the heads-up on “Murder in a Blue World” which I will check out sometime soon!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 9, 2011 8:21 am

But before he does he participates in a brutal assault on a family that’s getting ready to watch Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which is billed as a “symphony on the theme of violence.” The television eventually becomes an important character of its own in Eloy de la Iglesia’s film.

That right there is enough to make me want to see this. I do enjoy director’s takes on either another director or on a story done by another director. For one thing, it’s an interesting way to figure out the hows and whys of a director’s success. Watching Dressed to Kill or Blow Out make the strengths of Hitchcock more evident by revealing the weaknesses of DePalma in his attempts to emulate them. But it also shows DePalma’s strengths (montage, specifically, especially in Blow Out) and helps the viewer understand why he riffed off of Hitchcock in the first place.

Sometimes the lesser known film version of a classic novel is better, too, simply because there weren’t the kind of pressures involved in getting it done because it wasn’t expected to be a big hit anyway.

Also, I love that interior from the screengrab where they’re terrorizing the couple.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 9, 2011 8:21 am

But before he does he participates in a brutal assault on a family that’s getting ready to watch Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which is billed as a “symphony on the theme of violence.” The television eventually becomes an important character of its own in Eloy de la Iglesia’s film.

That right there is enough to make me want to see this. I do enjoy director’s takes on either another director or on a story done by another director. For one thing, it’s an interesting way to figure out the hows and whys of a director’s success. Watching Dressed to Kill or Blow Out make the strengths of Hitchcock more evident by revealing the weaknesses of DePalma in his attempts to emulate them. But it also shows DePalma’s strengths (montage, specifically, especially in Blow Out) and helps the viewer understand why he riffed off of Hitchcock in the first place.

Sometimes the lesser known film version of a classic novel is better, too, simply because there weren’t the kind of pressures involved in getting it done because it wasn’t expected to be a big hit anyway.

Also, I love that interior from the screengrab where they’re terrorizing the couple.

Posted By Juana Maria : September 9, 2011 5:01 pm

Those Mitchums are scary people.

Posted By Juana Maria : September 9, 2011 5:01 pm

Those Mitchums are scary people.

Posted By suzidoll : September 9, 2011 9:05 pm

I have not heard of this film, but how interesting. Sue Lyon was an interesting star — more presence than actress. But, with the right director, that was enough. And, there is a knack to that that many stage actors will never possess.

Posted By suzidoll : September 9, 2011 9:05 pm

I have not heard of this film, but how interesting. Sue Lyon was an interesting star — more presence than actress. But, with the right director, that was enough. And, there is a knack to that that many stage actors will never possess.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : September 15, 2011 6:04 pm

Thanks for all the feedback everyone! For some reason most of these comments didn’t show up until days after my post was up. I didn’t get the opportunity to read them until now but I appreciate all the comments. I really like Sue Lyon and Christopher Mitchum who is also great in this. I hope if anyone makes time to watch MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD they’ll enjoy it or at least find it interesting.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : September 15, 2011 6:04 pm

Thanks for all the feedback everyone! For some reason most of these comments didn’t show up until days after my post was up. I didn’t get the opportunity to read them until now but I appreciate all the comments. I really like Sue Lyon and Christopher Mitchum who is also great in this. I hope if anyone makes time to watch MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD they’ll enjoy it or at least find it interesting.

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