NIAGARA (1953)

Niagara Marilyn Monroe


Planned as one of Marilyn Monroe’s first starring vehicles, Niagara is an entertaining little tale of infidelity and murder set against the backdrop of the world famous falls. Monroe didn’t have the acting chops to pull off the femme fatale role, so for most of the film she parades around in slinky dresses and tight sweaters, without doing much of anything. There is one scene where she sings along to a record – completely off key and tempo. It’s awkward and painful to watch. At least Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, and Max Showalter (with his terrifying grin) are there to pick up her slack.

Marilyn stars as Rose Loomis, an opportunistic seductress who’s vacationing with her husband George (Cotten) at Niagara Falls. They aren’t the happiest couple, it’s a wonder why they got together in the first place. George is contemplative, an ex-G.I. who spent some time in a section 8 hospital after the war. While Rose enjoys song and dance, George is content staying in their cabin, putting together models.

Man, I know marriage was a different institution back then, but in so many of these noirs people wind up murdering their spouses because they’re so incompatible and long for something better (or insurance money). Why did they get hitched in the first place?! These films paint a bad picture of holy matrimony is all I’m sayin’.

Rose has got a little somethin’ somethin’ on the side – a young ethnic hunk she’s planning on running away with to Chicago. But first she’s got to get rid of George. Their genius scheme is to have the hunk throw George over the falls, making his death look like an accident. But something goes wrong, and it’s the hunk who winds up at the bottom, limbs tangled and bones crushed (I imagine, this is 1953, they couldn’t show that typa stuff back then). George has gone certified crazy before, so imagine how he reacts to an attempt on his life. Not well.

I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll say it again. I love me some Joseph Cotten. Here he does a bang up job portraying a elegiac man boiling over with rage. He knows when to play George more reserved, and when to let the anger show. It’s a hypnotic performance, honestly. And when he “rises from the dead,” he turns into this menacing grim reaper type as he hunts down Rose.

All up in the Loomis’ business are Ray and Polly Cutler (Showalter and Peters). They’re a spunky 6125163_113927043386young couple in town for a business meeting with Ray’s boss. And boy howdy is this guy all smiles. Have you ever seen Max Showalter’s grin?! It’s ear to ear and absolutely psychotic looking. It hurts my soul. Anyways, Polly takes a particular interest in the Loomis couple after she spies Rose smooching with her man meat. Ray is kinda pushed aside as the intrigue sets in post-murder attempt. Polly gets wrapped up in it while he just stays off to the sidelines and plays the supportive husband.

Director Henry Hathaway (Kiss of Death) did a great job of juxtaposing the powerful beauty of Niagara Falls with sleazy subject matter. Its a slick looking picture, especially the interiors of the cabins. They seem like these little wooden cages almost, doing their best to contain this group of lunatics. The climactic boat trip towards the falls is still effective 60 years later. The noir aesthetics really come out during the bell tower chase near the end. Hathaway had style out the ass – utilizing birds eye shots, sharp angles, deep shadows, etc. It’s a great scene.

While not as cynical or fatalistic as the classic noirs I dig, Niagara is a solid thriller with a great cast (minus Marilyn Monroe).

Patrick Cooper

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