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Early 1950s Suspense Featuring Marilyn Monroe & Allusions to Film Noir.
, September 9, 2005
This review is from: Niagara (DVD)
"Niagara" is a sexually charged suspense film reminiscent of the film noirs of the 1940s, but in bright Technicolor. It was Marilyn Monroe's first starring role and promoted the image of MGM's new rising star. The look and demeanor which Monroe wears in "Niagara" is the image she would create over and over again on screen and with which her name is permanently associated. Polly and Ray Cutler are on a delayed honeymoon to Niagara Falls, where they take a cabin next to another American couple, Rose and George Loomis. George Loomis (Joseph Cotton) is a troubled WWII veteran with "battle fatigue" and an obsessive, unstable manner. Rose (Marilyn Monroe) is his young sex pot wife, whose attentions improve George's state of mind and whose indiscretions inflame him. When Polly (Jean Peters) is kind enough to bandage George's hand after he injures it in a violent fit, George opens up to her about his marriage and his troubles. Rose discusses her husband's illness openly and may have ulterior motives for wanting people to think George is crazy. Polly's sympathy and curiosity draw her into Rose and George's warped and soon-to-be-violent world.
Marilyn Monroe certainly looks the part of Rose Loomis, and Rose is a villainess, not a sympathetic character, which would become unusual in Monroe's career. Rose is a very good role for her, though. Whether Monroe is acting or not is debatable, but beside the point. She is acting like Marilyn Monroe. She wears glossy bright red lipstick in every scene, including in the shower, to bed, and even when it clashes with her hot pink skin tight dress. The stand-out performance here is from Joseph Cotton, as the violently unstable, self-destructive George Loomis. Cotton leaves no doubt in the audience's mind that George is suffering, sometimes hateful of his wife but deeply in love with her, and considerate in his own way when he warns Polly against allowing love to "go over the edge", "like those falls". Rose and George are equally corrupted, for different reasons. But Joseph Cotton makes George sympathetic, despite his many faults. This is in contrast to Polly's husband Ray (Casey Adams), who is a "nice guy", but essentially shallow and chauvinistic. The audience, like Polly and Ray, is at first fascinated by Rose and George. But as the film develops, the interesting, though understated, relationship becomes George and Polly, who are the story's central characters in the sense that they have an emotional arc, while the others are static. Polly is "Niagara"'s brains and its occasionally confused moral center.
For film noir buffs: The 1945 film "Leave her to Heaven" is widely reputed to be the single color film that is classic film noir. But it isn't -it isn't noir, that is. "Niagara" might be a better candidate. George Loomis is probably the only truly noir character in this film, and "Niagara" isn't as introverted as film noir. Its views of sexuality and gender roles are moving into the Eisenhower era. Nevertheless, "Niagara" takes a lot of inspiration from the crime films of the 1940s. Rose is a femme fatale, although her machinations seem more foolhardy than ambitious, and she's not a strong character. Sex is portrayed as a corrupting force, as Rose and George's relationship is contrasted with Polly and Ray's. But "Niagara" is puritanical rather than paranoid. The sex of film noir is primal but attractive, a force of nature meant to exploit human flaws and reveal the fragile and laughable condition of the characters' egos. In "Niagara", it isn't so much Rose's seduction that plagues George, but the fact that his entire self-image is vested in his wife's sexuality. Odd. "Niagara" is a sort of bright, lacquered perversion of film noir. In any case, this is quite a thoughtful film as well as being a top-notch suspense.
The DVD (20th Century Fox Diamond Collection 2004): This is a restored print of the film that looks very good. Bonus features include several theatrical trailers, a Restoration Comparison, and a Still Gallery. The theatrical trailer for "Niagara" (3 minutes) is black-and-white. There are trailers for 4 other Marilyn Monroe films and one for the Diamond Collection of DVDs (1 minute). The Restoration Comparison (1 minute) is a side-by-side comparison of the unrestored print, which was sallow and greenish, and the new one. The Still Gallery includes 18 black and white pictures and 3 color photos of Marilyn Monroe. Most are movie stills, but there are a few publicity and wardrobe photos thrown in. Subtitles are available in Spanish, captions in English, and dubbing is available in French.
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