Monroe Needles Cotten
It may sound sexist but it is the truth, when most people think of Marilyn Monroe they think dumb blonde, it is the way the studios ended up portraying her and to be honest she did it so well, playing for humour to cover up her limited acting ability. But whilst she may be best known for playing the bubbly blonde Marilyn could play other types of characters, using her sexiness to great effect. One such movie is "Niagara" a movie which sees Monroe playing something close to a femme fatale, a woman who persuades her lover to do away with her husband, exploiting her sexuality to tease and torment in equal measures. Monroe isn't the only good thing about "Niagara" as director Henry Hathaway does a brilliant job of capturing the stunning Niagara Falls and the nearby buildings delivering a Hitchcock style storyline but in his own way.
Whilst holidaying at Niagara Falls, Rose Loomis (Marilyn Monroe - Monkey Business) conspires with her lover to kill her husband George (Joseph Cotten - Duel in the Sun) who being older and suffering from psychological issues since going to war, she has grown tired off. But when George turns the tables and ends up killing her lover whilst also disappearing she realises that he isn't going to let up till he gets his revenge on her. Also drawn into this mess are the recently wed Polly (Jean Peters - A Man Called Peter) and Ray Cutler (Max Showalter) who are on a late honeymoon at the Falls. And when Polly learns that George hasn't died despite everyone thinking he has finds her life also threatened by what she knows.
Now I do like the storyline to "Niagara", it is a good idea for a thriller although a good idea doesn't actually make it great. The trouble is that the storyline isn't really suspenseful as we quickly realise that Rose has tired of the volatile George and has nefarious plans for him with the aid of her lover. It serves all of this information up on a plate and makes it plainly obvious that Polly Cutler will end up drawn into this mess when she discovers that George isn't dead. I could go on but it would spoil a few of the better moments, but basically the actual storyline is too open and so doesn't have you on the edge of your seat guessing what will happen.
But then director Henry Hathaway makes up for the deficiencies in the actual storyline by firstly giving us some memorable scenes and allowing the characters to make the movie interesting. Now Hathaway does a brilliant job of capturing the beauty and power of the Niagara Falls, the opening scene in particular as we watch George on the rocks near the base demonstrates their magnificence perfectly. And then Hathaway does an equally job of capturing the surrounding buildings and whilst he over forces the importance of the bell tower early on, then uses it magnificently to deliver a standout scene. Even scenes which are obviously shot in a studio are just as good and one in a morgue whilst minimal still delivers a real punch.
But the best thing which Hathaway does is to allow the characters make "Niagara" interesting and in doing so having Marilyn Monroe playing a femme fatale. Watching Monroe as the conniving Rose is just a joy because she is seriously sexy and knows it using her body to tease and torment her husband George, purposefully pushing his buttons, be it dressing overly sexily or singing to a song which cause him to have a violent outburst. It's not just the look because you can see Monroe becoming this character, a look whilst she lays in bed speaks volumes as she devises her cunning plans, whilst a later scene shows how well should could deliver fear and paranoia.
It is to be honest Monroe who is the standout performance but then there isn't a bad performance in the movie. Joseph Cotten may struggle to deliver those violent outbursts but he does deliver the torment of a man who following the war has mental issues. And Jean Peters as Polly Cutler delivers both an element of sweetness and strength as her character gets drawn into the Loomis's mess, restraining it so she never steals a scene but plays it strong enough to be convincing.
What this all boils down to is that "Niagara" is a very entertaining movie but it is entertaining not for the storyline but for Henry Hathaway's direction and the performances. And in reality it is the performance from Marilyn Monroe as a sexy femme fatale which makes it so entertaining, watching her act rather than delivering the stereotypical dumb blonde which would become her trademark role.