Niagara (1953)

Niagara (1953) is a murder femme-fatale colour classic film noir movie with Marilyn Monroe as a scheming and seductive noir villainess who is planning the truly classic murder of a true film noir sap, played by Joseph Cotten.

All of this takes place by the roaring falls of the title which are magnificently displayed and form a foamy misty counterpart of art to the mortally scheming people, both innocent and guilty, who lurk upon its touristic shores.

This color noir movie, a 1953 commonplace of the American cinematic underworld, oozes with tension and shadows, directed by the seasoned hand of Henry Hathaway, overseen by the shrewd eye of Charles Brackett, and crafted in the dark alleys of screenplay by Brackett, Richard L. Breen, and Walter Reisch. 

Starring in this grim tale are the luminous Marilyn Monroe, the enigmatic Joseph Cotten, the seductive Jean Peters, and the slick Max Showalter, known in the shadows as Casey Adams. It strutted onto the scene like a siren in the night, capturing the hearts of audiences and leaving them breathless in its wake, a crown jewel in the treasury of 20th Century Fox's film noir files.

While the streets were often painted in shades of noir, Niagara dared to splash the scene with vibrant hues of Technicolor, a bold choice that set it apart from the monochrome masses. In the dying embers of Fox's reign in that format, Niagara stood as a testament to the power of defiance, a flickering flame against the encroaching darkness of CinemaScope's tyranny.

Marilyn Monroe, a rising starlet with a dangerous allure, claimed the spotlight in Niagara, her name scrawled in neon across the marquee, marking her ascension to cinematic royalty. 

[First line, voiceover as we watch him at the base of the Falls]

George Loomis: Why should the Falls drag me down here at 5 o'clock in the morning? To show me how big they are and how small I am? To remind me they can get along without any help? All right, so they've proved it. But why not? They've had ten thousand years to get independent. What's so wonderful about that? I suppose I could too, only it might take a little more time.

With this performance, she cemented her place among the pantheon of silver screen sirens, a position further solidified by the triumphs that followed: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), where she cast her spell over audiences with an intoxicating blend of beauty and danger. In the shadowy world of film noir, Monroe was the femme fatale incarnate, a force to be reckoned with, leaving a trail of broken hearts and shattered dreams in her wake.

But veiled behind the shimmering veneer of glamour and allure, a somber veracity lurks, where the entwined tendrils of carnal passion and ruin coil like serpents in an unholy embrace. Rose, draped in scarlet temptation, ensnares the soul with a mere exhale of smoke, her silhouette tracing a perilous path toward damnation. Her pas de deux with George orchestrates a symphony of duplicity and longing, a stark tableau set against the prosaic bond of the Cutlers, whose clandestine trysts echo softly within the sanctum of their domesticity.

Marilyn Monroe in Niagara (1953)

Ray Cutler, a bastion of virtue amidst the cacophony of vice, finds himself ensnared by Rose's incendiary allure, his yearnings smoldering beneath a facade of rectitude. Polly, his steadfast consort, bears witness in silence, her own desires cloaked beneath layers of societal decorum. Within their gazes, the clash between tradition and tumult rages—a conflict waged upon the battleground of human desire.

In Niagara, the carnal is not merely a transgression. In this immortal Henry Hatahway flick it is a weapon honed to lethal precision by those who dare tread upon the precipice of annihilation. As the final credits descend and the curtain falls, an unresolved query lingers: amidst the maelstrom of yearning, who shall emerge unscathed, and who shall be swallowed whole by the relentless tide of temptation?

George Loomis: Parading around, showing herself off in that dress, cut down so low in front you can see her kneecaps.

Polly Cutler: It's a stunning dress.

George Loomis: Would you wear it?

Polly Cutler: Well, I'm not the kneecap type. She's a pretty girl. Why hide it?

George Loomis: Don't worry about that. She'd like to wear that dress where everybody could see her, right in the middle of Yankee Stadium. She's a tramp!

Some argue that Cotten's casting in the role of George Loomis is incongruous, but incongruity may be the motivation for this casting, as Cotten embodies every ordinary man ensnared in the treacherous current of Marilyn's seductive sorcery, condemned to plunge headlong into the abyss, dashed upon the unforgiving rocks below. 

He epitomizes the mortal male, lured by Monroe's tantalizing allure, yet cognizant, deep within, that her embrace would spell his undoing, leaving him destitute and desolate, his very existence forever tainted by the ethereal radiance of her being.

Nevertheless, they all, without exception, acknowledge that were her gaze to alight upon them, they'd willingly hurl themselves into the perilous rapids like fools, relinquishing all semblance of fiscal prudence and mental stability in her wake.

George Loomis: I met her in a big beer hall. She was the most popular waitress they had. I guess it was the way she put the beer on the tables.

In stark juxtaposition to this tragicomic duo stands a pair of wholesome newlyweds (Casey Adams and Jean Peters) on their belated honeymoon. 

Marilyn Monroe in Niagara (1953)

While producer and writer Charles Brackett bestows upon George Loomis the mantle of a doomed protagonist, Casey Adams' grinning, quintessential Madison Avenue archetype is parodied with the finesse of a Frank Tashlin comedy. "We're the Cutlers!" he proclaims from the driver's seat of his convertible upon their arrival at the cabin grounds, as though anticipating an ovation complete with sparklers. 

Armed with his books to "catch up on his reading," he remains oblivious to the incredulity of the Canadian border patrolman, whose gaze lingers covetously upon Peters' voluptuous form in the passenger seat. 

It appears that Mr. Cutler's cranium is impenetrable to the monstrous sublimation of sexuality pervading his plastic, fantastical Madison Avenue existence. While he finds Monroe's provocative saunter enticing— "Get out the fire hose!" he jests as she passes by that evening — he dares not entertain the notion of pursuit, not even of his own wife, whom he merely captures in lascivious poses during sunbathing sessions. 

He's akin to a cardboard cutout molded by the banalities of 1950s television commercials. Surely, the Production Code never envisioned such a character as the fruit of their moralistic interventions. 

In contrast, his wife Polly played by Jean Peters is afforded a modicum of restraint and humanity. Their pivotal encounter with Loomis amidst the ruins of his petulantly ravaged cabin offers a fleeting moment of genuine connection, arguably the sole instance of authenticity throughout the film. 

Unlike their caricatured American Dream counterparts, the subdued Polly and George linger in the shadows as a somber antithesis: genuine individuals, bearing the burden of sorrow and introspection amidst the cacophonous farce masquerading as 'normalcy' in 1950s America. Yet, as disparate as these muted archetypes may seem, they remain tethered to their respective charades like life support systems.

Another aspect of the film that captivates me is its tranquil serenity—the ceaseless roar of the falls—ever-present and comforting. In the moments when George or his employer played by Don Wilson, of the Jack Benny show, aren't bellowing or chortling, serenity reigns supreme. The score springs to life only during instances of imminent peril or foreboding, leaving the ambient rush of the falls to fill the void, simultaneously soothing and unsettling. 

George Loomis: You smell like a dime store. I know what that means.

Rose Loomis: Sure. I'm meeting somebody. Just anybody handy, as long as he's a man. How about the ticket seller himself? I could grab him on my way out. Or one of the kids with the phonograph. Anybody suits me. Take your pick.

The desolate emptiness of the town juxtaposed against the frenzied rush of the falls engenders a sense of introspection. During my own visit, accompanied by a stunning Italian-American paramour after graduation (before assuming the mantle of Loomis in Seattle), the locale mirrored our solitude, despite the bustling activity—eerily enchanting. 

One could envision Siddhartha himself taking up residence as a motel manager, attuned to the profound mystic frequencies permeating the surroundings, perhaps even lingering there still . . . Yet, the environment also serves as a quintessential automotive tourist trap, a perfect backdrop for Monroe's American femme fatale machinations. 

The result is a cinematic gem as enduring as a life preserver, the ideal refuge to weather the scorching summer months in the city. You'll find solace in the beauty of Monroe and the falls, thankful in the end to be snug, dry, and enamored with a reliably mortal companion.

As far as overt references to sex goes, under the watchful Code, there is a great one in this film, which makes a play on the notion of make-up sex after an argument. Not only does the film start with the notion of sour sap husband George Loomis standing sexually frustrated in the spray, only return to his hot hotel room where his wife denies him, later there is a much better example.

Niagara (1953)

Directed by Henry Hathaway / Charles Brackett

Written by Charles Brackett  Walter Reisch  Richard Breen

Produced by Charles Brackett

Cinematography Joe MacDonald

Edited by Barbara McLean

Music by Sol Kaplan

Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release date

January 21, 1953 (United States)

Genres - Mystery, Drama, Crime , Film Noir, Psychological Thriller  

Run Time - 92 min. 


Wikipedia Article Niagara (1953)

Marilyn Monroe as Rose Loomis

Joseph Cotten as George Loomis

Jean Peters as Polly Cutler

Casey Adams as Ray Cutler

Denis O'Dea as Inspector Starkey

Richard Allan as Patrick

Don Wilson as Mr. Kettering

Lurene Tuttle as Mrs. Kettering

Russell Collins as Mr. Qua

Will Wright as boatman

No comments:

Post a Comment