Niagara (1953)

Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Directed by Henry Hathaway

Niagara is an American 1953 film noir thriller film directed by Henry Hathaway, and starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, and Max Showalter. It was one of Fox’s biggest box office hits of the year.

Unlike other film noirs of the time, Niagara was filmed in “three-strip” Technicolor (one of the last films to be made at Fox in that format, as a few months later Fox began converting to CinemaScope, which had compatibility problems with “three-strip” but not with Eastmancolor).

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Monroe was given first billing in Niagara which elevated her to star status. Her following two films of that year, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with Jane Russell, and How to Marry a Millionaire, with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall, were even bigger successes.

Terrific movie that does not get the attention it deserves.

2 September 2003 | by dconley-1 (Philadelphia, PA) – See all my reviews

The look and atmosphere in this film is so vivid that even viewed on TV it makes you feel as if you have been to Niagara Falls sometime in the early 1950s. The plot takes a deceptively leisurely pace but it builds to a gripping climax. It is worth the viewer’s time & effort to stick with it to the end. Marilyn Monroe is radiantly treacherous & her performance is subtle and bears close watching beyond her obvious attractiveness. She should get a lot more credit for this picture than I’ve seen others give her. Joseph Cotten balances between being menacing & getting our pity & sympathy. Not all the performances are terrific but this movie is a gem that rewards the effort to stick with it to the end.

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Two forces of nature – Marilyn and Niagara Falls

7/10
Author: blanche-2 from United States
11 October 2005

Beauty abounds in “Niagara,” a 1953 film starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, and Jean Peters. There’s the beauty and power of Niagara Falls, spectacularly displayed throughout the movie, and the beauty of Marilyn Monroe, who is gorgeous in Technicolor. Monroe is the unhappy wife of the unstable George Loomis, played by an appropriately seedy Joseph Cotten. It’s not clear whether or not Marilyn drove him to his present state, but he’s wound pretty tight. Monroe and her lover plan George’s demise via the falls. Jean Peters and Max Showalter are a vacationing couple who become more involved than they want to, Peters bearing the acting burden of the film. The casting is great (although the Peters role originally was supposed to go to Anne Baxter). Peters’ wholesome prettiness is in sharp contrast to Monroe’s va-va-va-voom.

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Having grown up near the Falls, it was both interesting and enjoyable to see them featured. And, as we all know who’ve been there, the Canadian side, where this movie was filmed, is far more beautiful. Given today’s security problems, I loved the scene where Monroe intended to walk across to the American side to avoid being questioned while in a car.

I’ve seen candid photos of Marilyn Monroe taken around the time of filming, and she was surely at the peak of her beauty and sensuality. Though I’ve always felt her very careful enunciation detracted from her dramatic acting, she’s very good as the cheating wife. It’s funny to read occasionally that the physical standard of beauty is thinner today – her figure, like the rest of her, is fabulous, shown off in a variety of clothing by Dorothy Jeakins, who was a prominent costumer on Broadway and in film.

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There’s really not much to the story of “Niagara.” It’s a standard tale of love, betrayal, and murder set against a magnificent backdrop and given spark by spirited performances. Well worth seeing.

Noir Goes Over The Falls: Awful

2/10
Author: Archangel Michael from United States
6 July 2015

Spoilers Ahead:

I adore Film Noir, as huge as my collection is, I just threw this away. Sadly, Showalter and Monroe the one two punch of awful. Showalter ruined two other Noirs; he is like that neighbor next door that sells insurance that only comes when you are really busy. You keep trying to get rid of him and he doesn’t take a hint. The most annoying actor of the 50s with that eternal highly medicated happiness only found in the severely brain damaged.

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Look, Marilyn was gorgeous but she could never act. The only good shot is from behind of her walking away; whenever Marilyn speaks it is painful. Billy Wilder said it took hundreds of takes to get one passable scene out of her in Some Like It Hot. Can you tell here? The movie is a disaster. Monroe and Showalter stink it up big time. It is so slow with lots of shots of the falls; yes, they are pretty we get it, move on, could we? It starts so slowly with Cotton being set up by a slinky, bad acting bimbo, forgive me. She is so awful here; Hathaway must not have had the patience Wilder had. The first half an hour nothing happens; when we finally get to the murder of Marilyn’s lover, it is off camera, like the film needed more boredom.

The Canadian detective is more wooden than a redwood, like Mr. Spock, the Canadian years, awful. Cotten is fine, he gives his usual great acting performance but he is surrounded by bad actors and the script goes nowhere slowly. After Cotton kills Marilyn’s lover, he stalks her half heartedly, finally kills her then goes back to apologize to her after she is dead. How weird is that? This is the script; do not believe the raving reviews. I have a huge collection of Noirs, I just cannot have it in my collection.

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Showalter is so bad even worse than Marilyn who at least you can stare at; the worst actor in the 50s. The script has Cotten stealing a boat without checking how much gas is in it; the most improbable events occur next. I cannot tell you how bad this is, boring, poorly acted and the writing is even worse. Sorry Marilyn fans, Wilder got good performances out of her in Some Like It Hot and Asphalt Jungle; she is just awful here. She has a habit of over-expressing with her eyebrows that is unintentionally comic. A Dreadful Attempt At Noir

Excellent, Engaging Hitchcockian Thriller

Author: WritnGuy-2 from New Jersey
17 April 2001

I rented “Niagara” for two reasons: one, the obvious reason to see Marilyn Monroe in such a unique role for her, and two, I always liked the idea of a side character (in this case, Jean Peters) getting inadvertently swept up in the intrigue of the main characters (Monroe and Joseph Cotten here). It’s rare that the supporting characters of a film are integrated so well into the plot. Usually, they disappear or are seen less of as the plot progresses. (eg: the inexorable quirky friend of a leading lady in far too many thrillers) But I digress.

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The plot is fairly simple, or so it seems. Polly and Ray Cutler (Peters and Max Showalter) are a young couple heading to Niagara Falls for a delayed honeymoon. Upon their arrival, they meet Rose and George Loomis (Monroe and Cotten), who are over-staying in their time in the Cutlers reserved cabin. Though Polly and Ray agree to stay in a nearby cabin, that is not the last they see of the Loomis’s, a strange couple indeed. One day, Polly sees Rose passionately kissing another man (Richard Allan). Then, the sly Rose angers her husband by playing a seemingly reminiscent song on a record player a few other couples are dancing to, pushing George to destroying the record in his hands. It becomes apparent that something far more than infidelity is going on, and without giving away too many of the plot twists, murder ensues.

One of the things I really loved about this movie was how timeless it was. The actors, or at least Monroe and Cotten, may be familiar actors of the time, but this movie could be done at any time, and seem appropriate. And speaking of actors, the acting in this movie, for the most part anyway, is wonderful. Monroe, needless to say, was flawless, and I loved every second she was on the screen. Joseph Cotten, as he did in Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt,” has the ability of being very intimidating, almost brooding, and was terrific. Jean Peters gives an Oscar-worthy performance.

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She’s very realistic, and impeccably likable. She manages to almost steal the movie from Monroe. I’m sorry to say Max Showalter was, well, really quite flat. The worst of the lot. Good thing he wasn’t in a large role, though he still is one of the stars of the film. In supporting roles, Denis O’Dea gave a typical detective role as Inspector Sharkey, popping in once in a while. Richard Allan had little to do as Rose’s lover Patrick. Showing up later in the film were Don Wilson and Lurene Tuttle as Ray’s boss and the boss’s wife, at Niagara Falls to vacation with the Cutlers. Both were excellent, though their roles were somewhat small. I liked the addition of their characters.

The chemistry between all the characters is terrific, particularly in the scene where Polly is bandaging George’s hand after he breaks the record. The two of them have many scenes together, and I loved how Peters and Cotten interacted with one another. Showalter seemed consistently nervous around Monroe, while on the topic of spouse-switching, so to speak.

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Overall, “Niagara” is very engaging. There is a good deal of action, especially towards the end. The chase scene through the bell tower was suspenseful, and the climax on the falls was absolutely wonderful. Polly proved herself to be very tough and a quick-thinker, and, throughout the rest of the movie, I liked how she didn’t turn to Ray every time a problem arose. (Which made the final confronation between only her and the other character so much fun, because no one could save Polly but herself.) I think that’s why I liked her character so much. Though, one thing to note, is the sort of silly-looking moment during the scene towards the end of the movie when George is pursuing Polly along the Falls (muted besides the sound of rushing water) and she slips and breaks through the wooden banister. It was a startling scene (I honestly thought she’d fall) but sort of funny, the way the movie sped up quickly to make it look to sudden. Oh well, blame it on technical abilities.

I definitely recommend this film, not just for Hitchcock fans and Monroe fans, but for anyone, even if you don’t like older films. This one is a classic, but at the same time, feels as if it could have been made only twenty years ago, not almost fifty.

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a formulaic Hollywood endeavour in the 1950s

6/10
Author: lasttimeisaw from Cairo, Egypt
16 September 2015
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A Film-Noir shot in Technicolor and stars Marilyn Monroe as the femme fatale, NIAGARA kick-starts a banner year for Monroe in 1953, with two even bigger splashes following in the same year, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, she would become one of the most bankable actress of her time, a sex symbol, an eternal icon.

The phenomenal Niagara Falls are maximally deployed through director Henry Hathaway’s (TRUE GRIT 1969) efforts, the awe-inspiring scenery, not merely serves as a locale in the film, where our protagonists, two couple, George and Rose Loomis (Cotten and Monroe) and Ray and Polly Cutler (Showalter and Peters) frequently visit (where an off-screen murder takes place), but also functions as a metaphor of George’s final doom (from the opening scenes) and a perfect template for the final engaging cliff-hanger.

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The story is not as convoluted as other film-noir exemplars, Rose is determined to get rid of her jaded husband George, so she plots with her young lover Patrick (Allan) to dispatch him and make it look like an accident near the Falls. While Ray and Polly are wide-eyed honeymooners involved with the plan by happenstance. Rose’s plan goes awry with a twist of revealing who is the one being murdered? Thanks to a lame plot-hole which allows the survivor to send the same signal to confuse our comprehension. Only within 5 minutes, the truth will reveal itself, and the film changes its orbit to a standard thriller with a vengeful heart, finally, a man must pay the price of killing the woman he loves.

It is interesting for viewers to buy the prerequisite that Monroe plays a heartless schemer, well, she pulls off a certain degree of credibility in the course, which is poles apart from her most well-known screen image, yet, we haven’t seen too much wit in her murder plan, neither is her prowess in choosing a right muscle to accomplish the job. When the scale being tipped, she fits more dutifully in the victim niche, where she runs away from a man who is resolute in taking her life.

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Albeit an unsatisfactory character-building, Monroe takes on every opportunity to parade her appeal, a deadly poison will lead any man to his ruination. When she hums the enchanting theme song KISS (written by Lionel Newman and Haven Gillespie), no man can resist that tantalisation.

Jean Peters, is set as the antithetical good girl against Monroe’s dangerous attraction, a beauty with no thorns, demure, warmhearted and courageous, a perfect wife (as Howard Hughes would prove that) marries to a rather unappealing man Ray, who is gregarious but wanting any personalities. As if the picture was sending a double-standard message: for a man, even you are as ordinary as Ray, you still can marry a girl like Polly, while, for a woman as gorgeous as Polly, you should settle for a man like Ray, he is a complete dull but at least he is bankable. That leaves a bitter taste, the so-called Hollywood-ian brainwashing of gender inequality.

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Otherwise, it is an acceptable flick, the vision of the Falls alone can be pleasantly overwhelming, in addition to Monroe’s unique magnetism, although a stroke of bathos is rendered charmlessly when she is no longer in the picture. When the boat weighs anchor, its destination is predestined, so is the life or death payoff of the two characters aboard, a formulaic endeavour.

Critical response

When the film was released, The New York Times praised the film, if not the acting. They wrote in January 1953, “Obviously ignoring the idea that there are Seven Wonders of the World, Twentieth Century-Fox has discovered two more and enhanced them with Technicolor in Niagara… For the producers are making full use of both the grandeur of the Falls and its adjacent areas as well as the grandeur that is Marilyn Monroe… Perhaps Miss Monroe is not the perfect actress at this point.

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But neither the director nor the gentlemen who handled the cameras appeared to be concerned with this. They have caught every possible curve both in the intimacy of the boudoir and in equally revealing tight dresses. And they have illustrated pretty concretely that she can be seductive – even when she walks. As has been noted, Niagara may not be the place to visit under these circumstances but the falls and Miss Monroe are something to see.”

 

 

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