This review is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Today's star is Marilyn Monroe.
Niagara is the rare film noir in color. It also is the rare Marilyn Monroe performance that is dark and dangerous. Far removed from her usual roles in light comedies or musicals, Niagara shows that even pre-Actors Studio, Monroe had the dramatic chops to more than hold her own against seasoned veterans.
Polly and Ray Culter (Jean Peters and Casey Adams) are on a delayed honeymoon at Niagara Falls funded by Ray winning a Shredded Oats contest for the best marketing idea. They find their cabin is still being occupied by George and Rose Loomis (Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe). Rose begs them to let them stay, as George is still suffering emotional issues and leaving might be bad for his mental health.
They agree, but it soon becomes clear that Rose is anything but a worried wife. She walks around in slinky outfits, taunting George with the song Kiss. Worse, Polly sees Rose in the throes of passion with another man. Soon, we discover that Rose is plotting to have her lover kill George at the falls and make it look like an accident.
Rose thinks the plan works, but Polly is shocked to see George alive when he enters their old cabin, unaware the Cutlers have moved in. No one believes Polly's story and George, insisting it was self-defense, pleads with her to let him stay dead. However, things devolve into more murder and mayhem, leading to a fatal encounter in the famous waterworks.
Niagara was a rare dramatic turn for Monroe in her early Twentieth Century Fox years, far removed from her persona of the dumb blonde. There is nothing sweet or innocent about Rose, which is why Niagara is one of Monroe's best, yet surprisingly lesser-known performances. She is excellent as this femme fatale: cold, calculating, alluring. This is no innocent, starting from her very first appearance on screen, where her face shows a coldness and calculated nature.
As this is the rare dramatic role Monroe had prior to her training at the Actors Studio, it is surprising to me that she or anyone thought Monroe could not be a dramatic actress. She shows she is more than capable of holding her own as a wicked temptress. Yet, unlike other femme fatales like a Stanwyck, Turner or Tierney, Monroe also brings some sympathy to the role at the end.
When she hears Kiss play, fully aware that her plans backfired, her growing fear becomes almost tragic. As she meets her fate, I felt genuine sorrow for Rose, and it is a credit to Monroe as an actress that she does elicit sadness from the viewer despite her wicked deeds.
Cotten was strong as the troubled George, even though at times he looked slightly bored with things. Peters was pretty but not as strong as Monroe or Cotten. Faring worse was Adams (real name Max Showalter). He gave it his best go but there was something a bit forced about him attempting to be a jovial husband to concerned spouse.
Niagara shows that film noir can have color, and the film is beautiful to look at with its vistas of the on-location shooting. Niagara is the rarely seen Marilyn Monroe: the strong dramatic actress, capable of playing wicked. It should be better known than it is.