NIAGARA (1953 United States)

slip 2 Marilyn Monroe NiagaraFor me, Monroe has almost always been little more than a collection of curves and breathy sighs, a style-less singer and an extremely limited actress. But she had that rare ability to reach an audience through the camera, making us forget there is a camera there at all.

She was one of Hollywood’s great artificial creations, who was mysteriously blessed with genuine star vibrations. In Niagara, however, she’s scarcely more than your Grandpa’s naughty dream. She’s not a good enough actress (or even a bad enough one) to be a first-rate femme fatale. Rose Loomis (Marilyn Monroe) is a tramp, and a dangerous one, but for my money she is just giving us a caricature of a tramp: all self-conscious sex-pot on two legs with way too much lip action when she sings.

Her hubby, George Loomis, (Joseph Cotton) is a loser, without the kind of lusty stamina that could keep his younger, lush and scheming wife, happy. They’re staying at the Rainbow Cabins, right on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Then Polly and Ray Cutler (Jean Peters and Casey Adams) check in for a second honeymoon. It’s not long before Polly and we realize Rose has a young, handsome lover. If Rose has her way, George Loomis might not be with us for much longer. And all the while a lot of water keeps crashing over the Falls.

We’re in for double crosses, murderous twists, desperate escapes and lots of what must be glue-on lipstick for Monroe’s kisser. (It’s bright red, thick and glossy, and she never gets a speck on her teeth or a smear on her pillow ) Of course, there’s a reason the film was named after Niagara Falls, and it just might be that George Loomis has better survival instincts than we were led to believe. There are bits and pieces of interesting scenes, but bits and pieces of old Hitchcock do not a Hitchcock film make.

It’s Jean Peters who lends Niagara what quality and fascination it carries. After the set-up of the scheme, in fact, the less we see of Monroe the better the film becomes. For the last third of the picture, we don’t see her at all, and that’s when the story starts developing some real B-movie quality. Niagara was made as a vehicle for Monroe, but, for me, she hasn’t the skills to bring it off. The oddness of Monroe dominating her scenes and Peters dominating hers makes for a dizzying story balance as well.

Niagara is reasonably satisfying to watch. The twists of fate, jealousy and retribution are almost always fun. The naive fifties cheerfulness of the backdrop and supporting characters serve to create a contrast with the murderous feelings of betrayal, jealousy and loneliness. Then there’s this strange, artificial creation of breasts, lipstick and sleepy eyelids to look. After all, wasn’t Marilyn supposed to be a 1950s version of Viagra? (I had to get that word in somewhere because it’s one of the few that rhymes with Niagara)


I appear to be Marilyn-bashing here, but that doesn’t mean anything. I’m still a fan, and I will return to her another time. Never mind the self-conscious acting skills, she is too sexy to be ignored…


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