Niagara

Niagara. 20th Century Fox 1953.
Niagara. 20th Century Fox 1953.

Before watching the movie:

According to the box, this is a departure for Marylin Monroe. As opposed to her typical lighter fare, here she’s taking a dark turn as a woman plotting to kill her husband. While I think the term is never used on the cover, this sounds like a noir in the style of Double Indemnity.

I’m looking forward to seeing her playing a femme fatale. It seems to suit her more than the giggling, often airheaded bimbo she always plays in her comedies. I know she knew how to control a room with her sexuality, she even built a career on it. I always watch her other movies waiting for her to drop the act and get exactly what she wants because she knows people will give it to her, and that looks like what happens here. Or at least, she tries.

After watching the movie:

Polly and Ray Cutler arrive at a Canadian-side falls-view hotel on their belated honeymoon, but the previous tenants, the Loomises, haven’t left their cabin, and want to stay longer. Moved to a different cabin, the Cutlers get to know the Loomises. Rose likes to provoke attention all around, which drives George crazy with jealousy. She even admits to him she has another lover. What she doesn’t say is that she’s plotting with that lover to kill him. Soon enough, George goes missing, and a body is found on the low side of the falls. But when the Cutlers finally move into the cabin they were promised, Polly sees a familiar face lurking. A face looking for revenge.

The plot structure was not what I expected. It isn’t so much about the plot and execution as about the aftermath. The rough hour and a half breaks down fairly neatly into thirds: exposition/murder attempt, another murder attempt, escape attempt. Once I picked up the rhythm of the plot, I was expecting the second third to be the finale. This isn’t helped by the fact that the Cutlers intended to be there three days, but seem to stay on a fourth or fifth.

Of course, the Cutlers themselves are a bit confusing. At least Polly is meant to be a protagonist/heroine/damsel, but they drop out for large chunks and it seems like one or the other of the Loomises is meant as the protagonist, and one or the other of them is the villain, and it seems to change which one. By the end, I’m pretty sure George is supposed to be a villain, but he’s too sympathetic a character to think of him as such. Similarly, while Rose does seem a better fit for Marilyn Monroe, she’s not as flinty as I was expecting, and at some point crosses over from being an antagonist to being a victim, and leaves me so confused I don’t feel anything for her, neither tragedy nor victory.

Unusually for a noir film, this is in color. It deserves it, though. I’m sure that movies did extensive location shooting at exotic locations before color, but the color really helps convey the beauty and scale of Niagara Falls. There’s so much of Niagara and all the tourist attractions surrounding it that it seems almost like advertising. The police inspector even comments at the end that he hopes all this unfortunate business won’t make the Cutlers “cross us off your list”.

This was an enjoyable film that kept me watching, even if the way the characters were treated was rather muddled. The dialogue has some excellent moments and good jokes that jab at the boundaries imposed by the censors. Not as good as the film I created in my mind, but a decent noir and probably Marylin Monroe’s best performance.

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