cast: Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Max Showalter, and Denis O’Dea
director: Henry Hathaway
85 minutes (PG) 1953
20th Century Fox
Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection
DVD boxset Region 2 retail
reviewed by Howard Watson
Henry Hathaway’s Hitchcockian thriller, Niagara, was Marilyn Monroe’s first venture into Technicolor. It is one of popular cinema’s stranger anomalies that the blonde bombshell never worked with Hitchcock, despite his track record with the likes of Grace Kelly, Kim Novak and Tippi Hedren. Of course, Monroe was never a natural blonde, and some of her early critics did not think her a natural actress.
Monroe’s legacy is largely due to the conspiracy theories surrounding her death, plus her comedic roles in Billy Wilder’s classic Some Like It Hot or opposite Jane Russell in the movie that followed Niagara, namely Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Russell, of course, found fame via the auspices of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes and Niagara would feature a lead role for the dark-haired actress, Jean Peters, who would later marry the man who made Russell a model for on-screen bad girls. Monroe herself would attract the same kind of publicity but in a way that would exceed expectations.
Niagara would be the film that proved that Monroe could act. As the young wife to Joseph Cotten’s husband, whom she is planning to murder so that she can escape with her younger lover, she demonstrated the class that she would later show in John Huston’s The Misfits. Even at that early stage in her career, she was pushing her talent as far as it would go.
Unfortunately, her sexuality would become a trap, especially as she grew older. Hollywood has never been favourable place to be if one is an aging actress, as Goldie Hawn pointed out some years ago. There really is very little between being a bimbo or Driving Miss Daisy!
Hathaway, who would later direct John Wayne in one of the last truly iconic westerns, True Grit, employed Monroe’s trademark wiggle, innate vulnerability and child-like qualities to great effect. Whereas other directors would play for laughs, he manages to make Monroe’s murderess a plausible human being so that her inevitable death – this was postwar America – brings a measure of sympathy for the character she embodies.
Essentially, a vehicle for Jean Peters, who is pivotal to the action, drawing the audience into the plight of a good wife drawn as much to the possibilities of Monroe’s lifestyle as to the need to save Cotton’s soul. An actress who was suddenly finding her feet lifts Niagara above the ordinary, and posits the inevitable question, would, or could, Hitchcock have done any better?
DVD extras: theatrical trailer.