As two couples are visiting Niagara Falls, tensions between one wife (Marilyn Monroe) and her husband reach the level of murder.
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The big break is something every actor is waiting for. Today it is amazing to think of some of the movies yesterdays Hollywood stars appeared in that were considered their “big break.” For Marilyn Monroe that movie was Niagara (1953). This is surprising because it is not a typical Monroe vehicle. It is not a comedy and her character does little to arouse sympathy in the audience.
There are two things about this movie that would be duplicated for success throughout Monroe’s career. These two things are what make Niagara the break-out movie for her. First, it was shot in Technicolor. This was the first time she had appeared in Technicolor, which is odd considering how popular she was with fans and how natural it seems to have her in color.
Secondly, the movie brought Marilyn’s famous walk into movie theaters across the country. Although she never got the big commotion made over her walking style, male audience members had no problem trying to dissect it. On the first day of shooting, director Henry Hathaway stuck the camera right behind her and had it follow her as she walked around a tourist overlook at the Falls.
These two firsts in Marilyn Monroe films helped make her a superstar. She had already been a hit with audiences, but this movie made the studio heads at Fox notice that she was also bankable in a starring role. Today the movie is still loved by Marilyn Monroe fans. I am not one of these though. Perhaps it is because this movie has an Alfred Hitchcock feel, but none of its substance.
Speaking of Alfred Hitchcock, Joseph Cotton stars opposite Marilyn here. The veteran actor was probably taking a step down when he appeared in this picture. He had been with Orson Welles in Citizen Kane (1941) and The Third Man (1949). He had also worked with Alfred Hitchcock in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Under Capricorn (1949).
Here, Cotton plays George Loomis, a retired solider who has just gotten out of a mental hospital. His wife, Rose, played by Marilyn, believes that it would be good for them to take a trip to Niagara Falls in order to rekindle their marriage. This doesn’t happen and Rose becomes bored with George. She decides to take up a new lover and secretly meets with him while George struggles to find some path in life.
She plots with her lover to have George killed. The plot nearly works as the idea is to have George pushed over the Falls. Someone is pushed off, but it isn’t George. The lover dies and George realizes that Rose wanted him dead. He sets off on a path to kill her. He ends up doing so, making it the one and only time that Marilyn Monroe would die on-screen. In the end George ends up dying as well.
George and Rose’s relationship is contrasted by the Cutlers, Ray and Polly, a couple who is on their second honeymoon as part of a business trip since the headquarters of Ray’s office is located just across the Falls in Canada.
The Cutlers are probably a big reason why I don’t like the movie. They are static characters who have not aged well. It is hard to watch when they are on-screen. It is also hard to watch Joseph Cotton. He is a much better actor than this. Not enough time is given to his character, which is why there seems to be a lack of explanation for the things he does in the beginning of the movie, although it is not a stretch to see him as a psychotic killer at the end. Marilyn Monroe, however, looks great and steals the show, like she did in every movie she was in.
It isn’t the best movie, but it was the beginning of superstardom for Marilyn Monroe. The movie is special for its place in her career.