Niagara US 1953
Directed by Henry Hathaway
20th Century Fox Region 2
“There isn’t any other song!” - Rose Loomis, Niagara.
When I was in my early teens, in the late seventies/early eighties, it has to be admitted that I had something of a “thing” for Marilyn Monroe. I’ve not seen all her movies... a couple of them I even avoided, and I don’t always like the ones of hers that most people seem to respond to (Some Like It Hot is not a movie I can watch and actually get any real enjoyment out of for some reason) but I did like her and was deeply attracted to her physical charms... as well as her obvious and sometimes misunderstood skill as an actress.
It also has to be said that in those days, pictures of most of the people I had fleeting pangs of sexual desire for weren’t always easy to come by... if I wanted to find a photograph of my other main heart-throb (or any-other-part-of-my-body-throb for that matter) then I had to go through all my old issues of Starburst Magazine to find the gal of my dreams, Caroline Munro. Marilyn was easier to acquire pictures of, however, as you couldn’t but help see prints, posters and postcards of her plastered up all over every branch of the art shop Athena when I was a youth. I’d like to make something of the fact that my two main heartthrobs had names that rhymed... but I don’t think that really made much difference to the deep seated attractions I held for each of these talented individuals... one living and one dead.
Anyhow, after a few years when my Marilyn obsession reached fever pitch, it had suddenly and almost without any warning become almost a cliché for young men to “have a thing” for Marilyn Monroe and after a while I guess I just got bored of her and somewhere along the way I stopped watching her movies. I’ve never even, until now, owned one of her movies on DVD.
Something happened a few months back, however, which brought back the itch just a little... soundtrack company Intrada finally released the score to Niagara (as a double bill with another Marilyn Monroe film score, River of No Return) on CD and, since it had been one of my favourites as a “growing lad” I thought I’d purchase said item and give it a spin. Suitably impressed by both Sol Kaplan’s string heavy score and by the excellent qualities of the recording brought out by Intrada, I decided to purchase the film (at a mere few pounds from Amazon) and give it another watch... I was surprised at just how much started coming back to me as I watched it.
Niagara is a really interesting movie. It’s very much a noir but the bright coloured daylight settings of the majority of the movie almost betray that atmosphere... or at least allow the bitterness of the twisted characters that haunt this little movie to creep up on you and take you by stealth. Hathaway’s direction starts you off with a double-rainbow effect... first panning down from a spectacular shot of Niagara Falls to hit a rainbow and then, when this little sequence is done, recapturing that rainbow in some lawn sprinkler’s as Joseph Cotton’s character George Loomis continues his voice-over narration and walks back to his hired cabin to see his wife Rose, played by Marilyn Monroe.
This is very much the story of the Loomis family but it’s also the story of Polly Cutler (played by Jean Peters) as she starts a delayed honeymoon with her husband Ray, a knee-jerk, Pavlovian reactive, apple pie of a husband if ever there was one... seriously Polly, why the hell are you in a marriage and letting him make all those decisions and be acutely patronising to you in the first place?
Anyway... Polly is our “heroine” in this movie... if one were needed. She is the person who observes the world in which Rose Loomis embarks on a scheme to drive her husband stark, staring mad so her secret lover can kill him off at Niagara Falls and they can be rid of him forever. Things, as in most films with a noir sensibility, don’t go right for any of the parties involved. George’s mental decline is nicely highlighted throughout the movie by use of the song Kiss (sung along to briefly by Marilyn but she never gives it the full works as she did on a recording from the time)... and Rose and her lover use the church bells as a signal so that Rose knows George has been “done in” when the church bells play Kiss. Or has he?
I don’t want to give away anything on this one but there are some great little things in Niagara that I should probably highlight here. The lighting, although in a brightly lit and colourful film, is still very much “noir lighting” with deep shadows and the silhouettes of men... real men who wear hats. Little details like Joseph Cotton listening on a phone call are slightly revealed through use of reflections in mirrors and many of the scenes have strong, stylish compositions (although I will say that some of the photography in this movie is so spectacular that I wished the movie had been shot in a widescreen format rather than the 1.33:1 standard ratio in which it was produced). The music gives it some oomph and lift in places too... such as when one of the characters (I’m not saying which one) gets strangled in the bell tower and, just before the strangulation occurs in a shot looking directly down at some shadows cast, the music plays a menacing incarnation of the tune “Kiss” before going completely silent during the actual strangulation and then cutting to various shots of the church bells in their silent, unrung state... bleak stuff.
And then of course there’s Marilyn... she plays a temptress of men here so she wears lotsa stuff which highlights her ravishing sexuality (no complaints here) but people who are used to seeing her playing nicey-nicey may get a bit of a shock. Here she plays a devious co-conspirator and, as such, she really jams it home as to what a great and, surprisingly naturalistic, actress she could be when she was playing something a little less familiar to the characters she would soon become established with (which reminds me, I must see if her turn as a murderous, psychotic babysitter in the movie Don’t Bother To Knock is available on DVD)... it might be a bit of an eye opener for people who are less than familiar with the kinds of films she was making before she became The Big Star!
Niagara really is a fine film and, as noted, there are some fine things in it... but I don’t want to give the impression that it’s a perfect film by any means. Towards the end, after the final curtain on one of the characters, it does tend to drag a bit as it ties up loose ends and, although the direction seems assured and confident... it can get a bit ploddy and make you almost wish that a certain Mr. Hitchcock had been at the helm instead. Still it’s probably my favourite Monroe film (until I maybe get around to watching Bus Stop again) and as such it resides in a warm place in my heart and earns itself a thorough recommendation.
If you like movies and you’re only familiar with the more comical or lighthearted side of Marilyn Monroe, you could do a lot worse than giving this one some of your time.