Niagara (1953)


Niagra (1953)My dad has the idea that Marilyn Monroe was no good as an actress which is true…to a point as I have found with her last film The Misfits (1961). I believe she unfairly earned this title due the directors she worked with, taking advantage of her, the film industry creating an image she couldn’t live up to and the pressure of public live being labelled a sex-symbol. And this is before the days of the internet when she would have surely suffered far worse under the gaze of the media. You have to look at earlier roles such as her small bit part in All About Eve (1950) where she was more a character role with a few lines, playing the blonde for a scene. Playing up that persona before it really took root a few years later. Another stronger example in Niagara (1953) where she’s paired against Joseph Cottenyes the very same who found fame thanks to Citizen Kane (1941) and a strong of thrillers, a credible actor from the theatre who made the transition to Hollywood. It seems a very strange pairing on the face of it today. Yet it’s not really, take a pretty young thing who knows no better to bring in the audience and an established actor and there you have on-screen couple for a film. It happens sadly to this day, Hollywood really hasn’t broken that mould. Hopefully as more actresses speak out about the sexism in the industry we may finally get change,

As much as Monroe plays more to the classic femme-fetale this time, the blonde who can really drop a few knocks along the course of the film, getting her husband George Loomis (Cotten) all tied up, Not long out of a psychiatric hospital the couple are taking a break at the iconic resort of Niagara Falls, it’s not really what the doctor ordered for the Loomis’s who are further apart than ever before, just about able to stand each other in their cabin. On the face of this all American location dark secrets are beneath surface ready to seep out in the blazing Technicolor film-noir. George’s troubled by feelings of jealousy which consume him, unable to move on, which is pushing the couple apart. As Rose (Monroe) has gone to the arms of another man already whilst on holiday.

We discover the Loomis couple have out-stayed their welcome when The Cutler’s arrive on their “honeymoon” something that is never really explained. Promised that cabin the Lomis’s are still occupying, the two couples an uneasy friendship, the Cutlers aware of the Rose’s overt sexuality towards the other guests staying at the resort, playing music that stirs up George to the brink. I found the Cutlers to be underdeveloped as a couple, first meeting them at the border, before we learn they are not really newlyweds, so what are they, just a couple taking a holiday. Ray (Max Showalter) is hoping to meet his boss Mr. J.C. Kettering (Don Wilson) and his wife, hoping to take advantage of the situation. However it’s Polly (Jean Peters) who has the most excitement, discovering more than she expected whilst enjoying the attractions. 

Polly’s caught up in the mess between George and Rose as things get messy, the disappearance of George before turning up dead a few days later. The all American holiday destination’s tinged with death, lies and alteria-motives that Polly is tangled up in unable to her herself free unlike her husband Ray who is harder to persuade. You could say its a classic Hitchcock where all this dark activity is going on, and only one person really knows the truth. Both of the Loomis’s are very different people, the very definition of opposites when it comes to a couple, the honeymoon period’s indeed well and truly over.

Henry Hathaway has taken the film-noir genre and brought it into the light of day, the all-American couple is no longer going on a happy holiday where you lie on the beach and get-drunk, a place where you can forget your troubles, they come with you and never leave. He has cleverly cast Monroe as the femme-fetale, using her beauty to distract us from what is going on inside her. Whilst Cotten is sometimes out of place, probably too old to really be her husband (like I said earlier a symptom of Hollywood) he’s possessed with jealousy and anger, not to the same level of darkness of Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the anger within him has come from a different place as they couple tear shreds out of each other. Hathaway also makes great use of the bells throughout really adds a sense of dread. On first hearing them they are to taunt us, as they ring out a previous song. Before acting as a foundation for more powerful scene that is both brave and daring in full colour, relying on the audiences memory to complete the scene as we’re distracted by the murder below.

This really was a surprising, a rare colour film-noir, with the addition of Monroe before the mid-fifties when her fame was cemented for very different reasons. We see what she could have become in this beautiful location that is synonymous with what is great with America. It’s very classic in it’s form, tinged with darkness. You’ll never go on holiday and feel the same again.

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