Genre: Film-Noir, Thriller
Director: Henry Hathaway
Richard L. Breen
Music: Sol Kaplan
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Harry Carey Jr.
A Film-Noir shot in Technicolor and stars Marilyn Monroe as the femme fatale, NIAGARA kick-starts a banner year for Monroe in 1953, with two even bigger splashes following in the same year, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, she would become one of the most bankable actress of her time, a sex symbol, an eternal icon.
The phenomenal Niagara Falls are maximally deployed through director Henry Hathaway’s (TRUE GRIT 1969) efforts, the awe-inspiring scenery, not merely serves as a locale in the film, where our protagonists, two couple, George and Rose Loomis (Cotten and Monroe) and Ray and Polly Cutler (Showalter and Peters) frequently visit (where an off-screen murder takes place), but also functions as a metaphor of George’s final doom (from the opening scenes) and a perfect template for the final engaging cliff-hanger.
The story is not as convoluted as other film-noir exemplars, Rose is determined to get rid of her jaded husband George, so she plots with her young lover Patrick (Allan) to dispatch him and make it look like an accident near the Falls. While Ray and Polly are wide-eyed honeymooners involved with the plan by happenstance. Rose’s plan goes awry with a twist of revealing who is the one being murdered? Thanks to a lame plot-hole which allows the survivor to send the same signal to confuse our comprehension. Only within 5 minutes, the truth will reveal itself, and the film changes its orbit to a standard thriller with a vengeful heart, finally, a man must pay the price of killing the woman he loves.
It is interesting for viewers to buy the prerequisite that Monroe plays a heartless schemer, well, she pulls off a certain degree of credibility in the course, which is poles apart from her most well-known screen image, yet, we haven’t seen too much wit in her murder plan, neither is her prowess in choosing a right muscle to accomplish the job. When the scale being tipped, she fits more dutifully in the victim niche, where she runs away from a man who is resolute in taking her life. Albeit an unsatisfactory character-building, Monroe takes on every opportunity to parade her appeal, a deadly poison will lead any man to his ruination. When she hums the enchanting theme song KISS (written by Lionel Newman and Haven Gillespie), no man can resist that tantalization.
Jean Peters, is set as the antithetical good girl against Monroe’s dangerous attraction, a beauty with no thorns, demure, warmhearted and courageous, a perfect wife (as Howard Hughes would prove that) marries to a rather unappealing man Ray, who is gregarious but wanting any personalities. As if the picture was sending a double-standard message: for a man, even you are as ordinary as Ray, you still can marry a girl like Polly, while, for a woman as gorgeous as Polly, you should settle for a man like Ray, he is a complete dull but at least he is bankable. That leaves a bitter taste, the so-called Hollywood brainwashing of gender inequality.
Otherwise, it is an acceptable flick, the vision of the Falls alone can be pleasantly overwhelming, in addition to Monroe’s unique magnetism, although a stroke of bathos is rendered thuddingly when she is no longer in the picture. When the boat weighs anchor, its destination is predestined, so is the life or death payoff of the two characters aboard, a formulaic endeavor.