Niagara, 1953

Very entertaining scenic film noir. There’s an interesting doubling motif with the two couples. The nice, decent Cutlers (Max Showalter’s Ray and Jean Peter’s Polly), and the sketchy Loomis’s (Joseph Cotten’s George and Marilyn Monroe’s Rose) move in and out of each other’s lives. They’ve got not one thing in common. But they’re destined to meet, thanks to an initial mix-up at the Niagara Falls resort. Ray and Polly are on their honeymoon; George and Rose are on the skids; Patrick (Richard Allen), Rose’s lover, lurks about.

Monroe does a great job as a femme fatale; Cotten does his noir manic, bitter, loose-cannon role nicely. Out of all of their time together there’s only a few light moments–they start and finish snarling at each other; except for George’s pause to ruminate over her trinkets–just as he kills her. Rose’s only true bit of fun, enjoying her favorite song at a dance, brings on George’s biggest fit; he hates whatever memory the song dredged up for him so much that literally attacks the record. Polly can’t help helping even the humbug George. I disagree with those who say that Polly’s too friendly. Her pleasant, common sense approach acts as a foil to Rose’s and George’s selfish natures. The weak link is Ray, who’s unfortunately a bit bland.

George sort of latches onto Polly. Maybe he feels that Polly represents the stability he’s never had with Rose; he tosses off the basis of their relationship with “maybe I liked the way she served beer.” Polly goes through her own insecure phase as no one will believe that she’s seen George after he’s mistakenly assumed dead. It’s a touch of the Hitchcock-style female who ‘loses it’. What’s even more in the Hitchcock vein is Rose’s murder; the seemingly endless staircase, the huge array of bells tolling, the shadows, and George’s sense of entrapment. Here the color is put to good use too.

I’ll disagree also with those reviewers who feel that the long ‘death ride’ at the end is histrionic. It’s a wild scene alright, but done believably. George is simultaneously going nuts and trying to help Polly, even though he’s put her in danger in the first place. He needs her; but when he knows he’s doomed he gets her more or less safely off the boat. The location pays off if for no other reason than to make this denouement possible.

Interestingly, Patrick’s murder is off screen. That makes it relatively easy to use the noir device of mistaken identity–George passing as Patrick–to give George a short-lived fresh start. I wish we’d seen more of Patrick, though. Presumably, he’s supposed to be a younger, more virile replacement for George. If Ray, and even Rose, are two-dimensional, Patrick’s notable only as a cipher. On the other hand, I can’t see the point of including the buffoonish Ketterings. They add nothing to the plot, and no one pays much attention to them anyway.

For all of the attention that Monroe gets when she’s on-screen, Rose’s role is underwritten. She has no real redeeming qualities. Well, George, a double-murderer, is beyond redemption. But as a character, he shows plenty of personality. Polly is at the center, holding everything together. My version of Niagara would have Polly running off with George, and Ray getting smitten with Rose. Patrick could be Rose’s ex, winds up dead anyway, this time at Ray’s hands.

Some feel that the plot is too simple; I’d say that what might be too simplistic is some of the characters. Despite an odd bit here and there, Niagara is well-worth watching–especially for Cotten’s and Peter’s performances. 8/10.

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