Niagara (1953) may have been filmed in dazzling Technicolor, but it’s got the black heart of a film noir! Directed by Henry Hathaway from a script by Billy Wilder’s frequent collaborator Charles Brackett (who also produced it), Walter Reisch, and Richard Breen, Niagara is a dark thriller despite the blue skies and white waters of majestic Niagara Falls; even Sol Kaplan’s music has a dark but lush tone, bringing to mind one of my favorite composers, Bernard Hermann. Director of Photography Joe McDonald (The Dark Corner, My Darling Clementine, Mirage) shot the beautiful, bright locations while still making atmospheric, suspenseful use of shadows and light. Even more dazzling is Marilyn Monroe in one of her earliest star vehicles; the film’s ads boasted about the film’s two “forces of nature,” Niagara Falls and Marilyn, and they meant it! Monroe is sultry and slippery in one of her last femme fatale roles before Gentlemen Prefer Blondes showed the world Marilyn’s funny side. 20th Century-Fox’s head honcho, Darryl F. Zanuck, wasn’t exactly Marilyn’s biggest fan. In the intro to the most recent TCM airing of Niagara, Robert Osborne reported that Zanuck felt she had no class, and that gals like her were a dime a dozen. What a dope! But the Marilyn Buzz was stronger and louder than Niagara Falls itself, so she got the upper hand; good for her! It helped that co-star Joseph Cotten was fond of her, and he was very kind and patient with Marilyn’s frequent tardiness. More importantly, Cotten recognized Ms. Monroe’s earnest determination to prove she wasn’t some here-today-gone-tomorrow type. Heck, after I learned all this, I was doubly impressed with Marilyn’s powerhouse performance, considering director Hathaway had a reputation as a tough taskmaster (see my blog post about The Dark Corner). Fun Fact: Niagara’s assistant director was Gerd Oswald, who went on to the TV series The Outer Limits.
Dangerous when wet! (Or dry, for that matter!)
|Rose, you naughty girl, don’t smoke in bed! (How does she keep her glossy fire-engine red lipstick from smearing the sheets?)
|Loving a wily vixen like Rose would give any guy a headache!
|*SMASH!* "Uh, sorry; can't stand that darn
'I gave my love a cherry' song!"
By now, Polly and Ray have been through the wringer because of those loony Loomises, so even though Ray can be a chucklehead at times, I had to smile and sympathize with him being, to quote the High Noon theme song, “torn ’twixt love and duty,” sincerely wanting to take care of his distraught bride, yet reluctant to nix an opportunity to score a raise that would improve their life together in myriad ways. If the 1953 economy was anything like today’s economy, I can’t blame Polly for agreeing to include face time with the boss as part of their honeymoon itinerary! Peters and Adams make an appealing couple, sweet with a nice touch of insouciant playfulness. The peripatetic Ray clearly means well and loves Polly. Heck, he doesn’t even show any serious lust for the luscious Rose; he just makes good-natured wisecracks about her to Polly, and vice-versa. For that matter, I liked how Polly never acted catty or jealous around Rose. Now that’s self-confidence! As the calculating, manipulative Rose, Monroe smolders like nobody’s business, driving the fellas mad with her careless come-hither air and her curves in, as George grouses, a dress “cut down so low in front, you can see her kneecaps.” Monroe even gets to sing “Kiss” (no, not the Prince song), the lushly romantic tune that Rose and her secret sweetie like so much. It’ll come back to haunt her later, but I don’t want to give away the nifty twists! I’ll only say that Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud to call the bell tower scene his own. Admittedly, considering Hitchcock’s particular taste in female stars, I imagine Hitch would have picked a cooler, more subtle blonde than our Marilyn, dazzling though she is; I suspect Hitch would have considered Marilyn’s Rose Loomis to be more the Judy Barton type than the Madeleine Elster type . After the bell tower scene, the film almost literally drifts into Perils of Pauline territory, but by then I cared enough about the characters to stick around and see how it all worked out.
|"Goody! My evil plan is working beautifully!"
|Hot make-up sex with Rose? No wonder George is happy!
|Hi, remember us, Jean Peters and Casey Adams, Marilyn and Joe's co-stars?
|Wonder if Rose’s hunky hottie gets style tips from Bruno Antony?
|Wonder if Rose gets her style tips from Marlene Dietrich?
|What's the matter, Rose? Don't you like that song?
|Bells are ringing for me and my MURDER!
|"Uh, Georgie, let's not be hasty...c'mon, I'll sing you 'Happy Birthday'!"