More icing than cake, Henry Hathaway’s vivid postcard-noir Niagara does manage to impress as both rising-star showcase for a breathtaking, 26 year old Marilyn Monroe – and as an engrossing, if underwritten, Technicolor thriller that while not entirely respectable – remains highly enjoyable.
Arriving at the falls for a long-delayed honeymoon, buoyant Polly and Ray Cutler cross paths with fellow travellers George and Rose Loomis – a May/December couple on the other end of their marriage who, with their public displays of friction, seem dead set on giving the titular spectacle some competition.
Like spectators at a fiery race-track smash-up, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot the Cutlers can do to extinguish the home-fires burning in cabin ‘B’, especially when it’s occupants are regularly adding fuel. A platinum-blonde supernova of sexuality, Rose has tired of her aging veteran – and enlists her hunky young secret lover to murder the surly cuckold. But the plan to eliminate George and make it look like a suicide or disappearance backfires when during the offscreen surprise attack George holds his ground, and then some.
Having kicked into full noir gear, Niagara then undergoes a precipitous darkening, as the Cutler (sub)plot recedes into the background and the viewer is rewarded with several dark treats – including a character’s heart-stopping moment of clarity during a morgue corpse-identification; another’s desperate plea to be allowed an illicit identity swap; and a bravura murder set-piece that echoes Hitchcock’s distinctive stylishness. —Noiroftheweek.com
The archetypal studio professional, Hathaway began working in films before the industry had settled in Hollywood. During his 40-year career he directed over 60 features (including Paramount’s first Technicolor picture, “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” 1936), became a pioneer of location shooting, and developed a reputation as a technically accomplished, reliable entertainer. He later bemoaned the familiar and unjust tag of “genial hack” which he had earned, he said, because of his reluctance to indulge in personal promotion. Certainly, though, the director of such fine and craftsmanlike action films like “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer” (1935), “Souls at Sea” (1937) and “Spawn of the North” (1938), as well as the atypical but hauntingly surreal love story “Peter Ibbetson” (1935), deserves more critical respect.
Hathaway began his career in San Diego, as a child actor in one-reelers directed by Allan Dwan, before moving to Hollywood with his actress mother. Both worked for T.H… read more
The premise of "Niagara" holds an irresistible sway: who wouldn't want to see Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotton in an early 50's suspense picture? The truth is, some films are forgotten by history for a reason. Monroe is superb as the femme fatale but she's only in the movie long enough for the producers to justify giving her name top billing. Early on, "Niagara" generates interest by contrasting two very different married couples on the honeymoon from hell. Before long, though, the material disappointing devolves into a rote imitation of Hitchcock-style thriller, all while attempting to please the travel board at Niagara Falls. I won't say it's impossible to create a noir-like atmosphere while utilizing Technicolor, but it certainly makes it several shades more difficult. "Niagara" remains a curio at best.
An end-of-2011 celebration not of new films but of old films revived and seen throughout the year. Ozu, Marilyn Monroe, Raoul Walsh, oh my!