Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NIAGARA (1953)

Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe are an unhappily married couple who are spending a miserable vacation at a cabin overlooking Niagara Falls. Casey Adams (who works in shredded wheat) and his wife Jean Peters are also sharing a cabin on their belated honeymoon. During a party, Monroe plays a record of a love song which causes Cotten to go a little berserk—it’s apparently not their song and he suspects she may be seeing someone else. Soon Peters sees Monroe sneaking a kiss with handsome young Richard Allan; it turns out that Monroe and Allan have hatched a plan: he’ll kill Cotten and skedaddle to Chicago; she’ll report Cotten missing, identify his body when it’s found, and then leave town to meet her lover. However, when Monroe goes to the morgue, she becomes hysterical when the dead body is that of Allan instead. The cops misinterpret her reaction and assume she’s identified Cotten, but soon Peters sees Cotten show up at the cabin looking for Monroe. Peters winds up mixed up almost over her head in the fatal affair.

I saw this movie the day after returning from my own Niagara Falls vacation, so it was great fun to see the real Falls provide the background for the film—and also to notice how much the area around the Falls has changed (I can’t imagine that the falls-side cabins still exist). The film itself is a rather bland thriller, not bad but lacking a bit in terms of characterization and writing; Monroe, Cotten, and Allan are given no backstory so it’s difficult to care about any of them—we know more about the relatively minor character of Casey Adams than about any of the love triangle members. Still, the movie has its pleasures: a murder in a bell tower is almost Hitchcockian, there is nice use of color (and, of course, the falls), and Monroe gives a truly good performance, to my mind the best one she ever gave. She was not yet weighed down by the sex bomb reputation and actually gives a performance rather than relying on breathiness and a heaving bosom. Peters, who is actually the main character, is fine. Cotten seems a little at sea, perhaps because he has no real character to play, just a type with little background or motivation. It’s too bright and colorful to feel like a noir, but uses some of the genre’s conventions. I’d give this a “sure, why not?” [DVD]


Jim said...

This is one of my all-time favorite non-Hitchcock Hitchcock movies. Marilyn at the beginning of the film ... wow.

Michael said...

Agree on both counts, and I'm not usually a Monroe fan.