Niagara (1953)
Niagara (1953)

Genre: Drama and Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: January 21st, 1953 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Henry Hathaway Actors: Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Max Showalter, Denis O’Dea, Richard Allan

 


 

A

t the Rainbow Cabins near Niagara Falls, frustrated, battle-fatigued army-man George Loomis (Joseph Cotten) looks in on his wife, Rose (Marilyn Monroe, first appearing in bed, having been asleep, but with those shiny golden curls and perfect makeup, which stay impossibly preserved in a later shower scene, too), after having taken a stroll at the base of the natural wonder. He’s been restless of late, particularly in the wee hours, yet exhausted during the day. Meanwhile, Ray (Casey Adams) and Polly Cutler (Jean Peters) arrive at Rainbow Cabins as well, intent on having a proper honeymoon, despite the fact that they’re not exactly newlyweds. Salesman Ray seems more interested in the shredded wheat factory, where his ad campaign idea is to be featured in new promotions, while Polly struggles to keep him focused on having fun.

As the Cutlers see the sights, touring every angle of the Falls, Polly stumbles across Rose, who isn’t out grocery shopping as she mentioned in passing. Instead, she’s in the arms of another man, kissing under the mist in a scenic tunnel. George has his suspicions about the affair, and he isn’t afraid to ruin an evening of light revelry by shattering a record, which plays a song from one of Rose’s prior relationships. “She’s a tramp!” he cries, bitter about his promiscuous wife, yet still in love enough not to leave her for good. Nevertheless, he’s obnoxious enough to make a scene in front of a crowd, similarly throwing a fit in front of the Cutlers, even when they’re just trying to be sociable.

With Cotten’s sullen, philosophical voiceover narration, “Niagara” begins with a film noir vibe. But it takes awhile before the darker notes of such crime dramas return, pausing for some time to build up the characters. Cotten has his work cut out for him, as his role is so moody and cantankerous (and, ultimately, irredeemable) that sympathy stays with Rose, even when she begins plotting something quite dastardly with her malleable flame, Patrick (Richard Allan). Amusingly, Monroe easily adopts two parts here: one as the whimsical seductress, the other as a duplicitous schemer. Her acting may not be award-worthy, but she’s convincing in both of her shifting personalities.

The story steadily grows more complex (though predictable) when an untimely demise afflicts the wrong man, and when an opportunity for revenge nearly brings ruin to the wrong woman. As with Monroe’s performance, there are two disparate movies at work, since the Cutlers must keep up appearances with Ray’s employer, all while George deals with the repercussions of his wife’s machinations. Eventually, the two sets of characters reunite, contending with disbelief by the authorities (led by Denis O’Dea as Inspector Starkey), hasty decisions, and panicky getaway plans. Plus, Niagara Falls itself is featured in so many sequences that it’s virtually one of the film’s stars. The boisterous, tumbling waters certainly make for a unique backdrop to the drama, additionally providing a nemesis for the climax, which again returns to the macabre subjects of classic film noir.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10