Wednesday, 29 August 2007
Niagara (1953) dir. Henry Hathaway
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotton, Jean Peters
"A raging torrent of emotion that even nature can’t control!"
“Niagara” is a Hitchcock film that Hitchcock never made. Veteran studio director Henry Hathaway directs this suspense thriller about a woman who conspires to kill her husband and run away with her male companion. It features one of Marilyn Monroe’s most alluring performances, but it’s Niagara Falls that’s the star of the film – skillful use of on-location shooting to make the natural wonder a foreboding omnipresent shadow over the action.
A young newlywed couple, Ray and Polly Cutler (Max Showalter and Jean Peters) arrive in Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. Occupying one of the rooms is the sultry and sexy figure of Rose Loomis (Marilyn Monroe). She is the trophy wife to an elder man, George Loomis (Joseph Cotton). Right away there’s something teasing, naughty and shifty-eyed about Rose. When Polly catches Rose locking lips with another man near the Falls, she knows something is awry.
It turns out Rose is quietly plotting to leave George and run away with her handsome boy toy – Patrick (Richard Allen). George is targeted to be bumped off by Patrick in an elaborate murder scheme, but when the plan fails Patrick ends up the one murdered. George goes on the hunt for revenge against Rose. But when Polly gets in the way, suddenly she’s caught in the web of suspense and thrills, which culminates thrillingly at the edge of the Falls.
As effectively as Hitchcock used San Francisco in “Vertigo” or Mount Rushmore in “North By Northwest” Henry Hathaway does the same with Niagara Falls. In fact, Joseph Cotton, not so subtly tells us the metaphor of the Falls when Loomis warns Polly about love, “…it's calm and easy, and you throw in a log, it just floats around. Let it move a little further down and it gets going faster, hits some rocks, and... in a minute it's in the lower rapids, and... nothing in the world -- including God himself can keep it from going over the edge.” This is Loomis’ marriage in a nutshell.
Hathaway shoots the Falls with stunning visual beauty. His frames highlight its powerful force as well as its graceful natural elegance. The murder at the bell tower provides a wonderful cinematic shot showing a murder from high in the ceiling looking down at the shadowy action overhead with the bells perfectly framed in the foreground. The final moments down the river approaching the edge is a terrific action sequence – especially for 1953. Hathaway uses complex gimble effects to rock the boat and he dumps more than enough water in Cotton and Peters’ faces to make it believable.
Marilyn Monroe is a perfect Hitchcockian blonde cocktease. She is ravishing, especially in her opening shot, naked underneath the covers in bed. We see her coming in and out of the shower on a number of occasions, and her famous pink dress rivals any sexually enticing costume I’ve seen on film. It’s too bad Ms. Monroe never made a real Hitchcock film. She stayed mostly in her comedic comfort zone, but in “Niagara” she commands the screen like best-ever femme fatales.
Max Showalter as Ray Cutler is a weakpoint in the film. His gawky naivety is too childish and rudimentary to have even survived scrutiny in 1953. His one-note and ‘clown like’ facial expressions are fit for television, not the big screen.
Henry Hathway wasn’t a studio hack, and though he never did get the recognition of an Alfred Hitchcock, he did create some indelible noir classics including, “The Dark Corner”, “Kiss of Death”, “Call Northside 777” and, of course, “Niagara”. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Niagara