One year, one film: 1953
Niagara, dir. Henry Hathaway
Starring Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotten
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE
Marilyn Monroe is perhaps the most enduring star of mid-century Hollywood. Her image adorns all kinds of merchandise, from t-shirts to purses to iPhone cases. The internet is full of misquotes attributed to her. Her name is practically synonymous with the term “sex symbol.”
But behind that legacy is a filmography full of great work. Marilyn was a talented actress, and Niagara is my personal favorite of her films. Atmospheric, suspenseful, and beautifully shot on-location, this film is one of old Hollywood’s best and features stellar performances by both Monroe and Joseph Cotten.
The basic premise is as follows: Ray Cutler (Casey Adams) and his wife, Polly (Jean Peters), are taking a trip to Niagara Falls. Upon arrival at the cabin resort where they’ve booked their vacation, they find that their cabin is already occupied. Rose Loomis (Marilyn Monroe) tells the Cutlers and the property manager that her military veteran husband, George (Joseph Cotten), has been sick. The property manager agrees to let Rose and George stay, giving the Cutlers a different cabin.
It soon becomes apparent the Cutlers that something odd is going on with Mr. and Mrs. Loomis. Polly sees Rose at Horseshoes Falls with another man, and later, George has an outburst over a record that’s playing at the resort. The future is looking pretty bleak for Rose and George… but will the fate of their marriage go from bleak to sinister?
If you couldn’t tell from the words of praise and “must-see” rating I’ve given this film above, I absolutely adore Niagara. But what did the critics think of the flick back in ’53?
Variety called the film “magnificently photographed” and said that “the atmosphere throughout is strained and taxes the nerves with a feeling of impending disaster” — exactly as a thriller should.
The New York Times gave even higher praise to the film’s visuals, stating that 20th Century-Fox had discovered two more “wonders of the world” in the form of Technicolor Marilyn and Technicolor Niagara Falls. Their review wasn’t as kind to the film on the whole, though, calling Cotten’s performance “sometimes phony” and Casey Adams’ “a mite too enthusiastic.”
Most of the talk about the film in the entertainment publications of its release year seems to focus on Marilyn’s beauty (and her walk!), but Niagara is worth tuning in for beyond just the appeal of its leading lady. It’s a great watch for any fan of noir, with plenty of tension and stunning cinematography.