A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, December 25, 2015

Niagara (Henry Hathaway, 1953)

Niagara was one of three movies starring Marilyn Monroe that were released in 1953. The other two, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Howard Hawks) and How to Marry a Millionaire (Jean Negulesco), were hits, confirming what we now know: that Monroe was a peerless comedian, not, as Niagara wants her to be, a film noir siren. She had done earlier turns in legitimate film noir, a small role in The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950), larger ones in Clash by Night (Fritz Lang, 1952) and Don't Bother to Knock (Roy Ward Baker, 1952), so this time 20th Century-Fox decided to go all out in exploiting her as a femme fatale. There are many things wrong with Niagara, one thing being that it can't quite decide whether it's a noir thriller or a Technicolor travelogue about the eponymous falls and their various tourist attractions. But what's most wrong about it is its misuse of Monroe, who is not even the real lead character in the film: Her role is decidedly secondary to that of Jean Peters. And she is grotesquely exploited in her part as Rose Loomis, unhappily married to a mentally unstable man (Joseph Cotten) and plotting to have her lover (Richard Allan) bump him off. The studio can't resist dressing her in skin-tight clothes, with high heels that make it impossible for her to walk without bumps and grinds, and flaming red lipstick that's obviously freshly put on even when she's supposed to be waking up in the morning. A producer less under the control of the studio than Charles Brackett (who also wrote the clunky screenplay with Walter Reisch and Richard L. Breen) might have made Rose into a credible character, but here she's only an adolescent boy's fantasy. But even a misused Marilyn is better than no Marilyn at all, as we find out two-thirds of the way through the movie when the focus shifts to the character played by Peters and her grinning ass of a husband (Max Showalter), and we have nothing to marvel at but the Falls. If the screenplay had fallen into the hands of a Hitchcock, Niagara might have been a success, but Henry Hathaway directs as if he's bored by the whole thing.  

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