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Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotten are an ill-suited couple staying in the cottage next to happy newlyweds Casey Adams and Jean Peters near Niagara Falls. While sightseeing, the newlyweds see Monroe kissing her young lover (Richard Allen) and hear them plot to kill her husband, making it look like suicide. When the latter goes missing, Monroe is asked to identify a body and discovers it's her lover. Her husband's vengeance threatens them all.
For more about Niagara and the Niagara Blu-ray release, see Niagara Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 30, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Henry Hathaway
Writers: Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, Richard L. Breen
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Max Showalter, Denis O'Dea, Jean Peters, Don Wilson
» See full cast & crew
Niagara Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 30, 2013
Marilyn Monroe had been featured in previous films, but 1953's Niagara—directed by Henry Hathaway (True Grit)—turned her into an instant icon. It was here that her lasting screen image was firmly established; the platinum blonde locks, the pouty red mouth, the va-va- voom walk that makes you imagine timpani hits with each sashay of her hips. Sensual doesn't even begin to describe it. Niagara is a rare Technicolor noir—passing up black and white chiaroscuro for vivid three-strip hyperrealism—and Monroe is its dead-sexy femme fatale, slinking her way through a melodramatic plot that crosses honeymoon camp with murder and mental illness. Viewed today, the movie seems rather placid, with seen- it-coming twists and a lack of real tension, but even when it debuted, Niagara's main draw was never its story. You come to Niagara for the view—of the sultry Marilyn, certainly, but also of the falls themselves, which had been represented in film before, but never with such raw power and visual impressiveness. Shot by famed cinematographer Joseph MacDonald (Bigger Than Life, How to Marry a Millionaire, Panic in the Streets), the box-office success prompted a spike in Niagara Falls tourism, and watching the film now lets us see the place before it was completely overrun by kitsch and commercialism.
Monroe plays the voluptuous Rose, the unhappily married wife of George Loomis (Joseph Cotten), a PTSD-afflicted Korean War vet who's recently been discharged from a mental asylum. The Loomises have come to Niagara Falls to rekindle their marriage—it's where they honeymooned six years before —but it's soon apparent that the embers have all but entirely gone out. George spends the nights wandering alone down by the falls, seeming suicidal, while Rose lies naked in bed—covered only by a thin sheet—smoking cigarettes. There's clearly trouble in paradise.
Checking into the cabin next door is the chipper shredded wheat salesman Ray Cutler (Max Showalter), who won a trip to visit his company's international headquarters in Ontario and decided to bring along his wife, Polly (Pickup on South Street's Jean Peters), for a delayed honeymoon of their own. Ray is the prototypical 1950s tourist husband—eager to see all the sights—and he's a bit of a horndog too, ogling Rose's curves and trying to get his wife to stick out her comparatively small chest for a few posed bikini pics. Some sort of sordid love quadrangle seems like the most obvious direction for the plot to take, but Hathaway and the film's writers steer the two couples towards a different kind of collision. When Polly spots Rose making out with another man (Richard Allen) by the falls, and when George suddenly disappears, a murder conspiracy emerges out of the mist, progressively becoming more clear.
Setting a noir in the cheery tourist trap of Niagara Falls seems like an odd choice, but Hathaway digs beneath the superficial happiness of the place to expose intertwined veins of sex and death. The best word for the film is probably suggestive. The hinted make-up sex between Rose and George. Ray's male gaze, zeroing in on Rose's tight-skirted rear end as it bounces down the road. And then there are the torrential falls, of course, which carry their own erotic weight. Niagara uses implication and innuendo to strong effect, letting viewers fill in the seamy blanks with their imaginations. The thriller aspects of the film, however, are not quite as thrilling. You'd be correct in assuming that there will be, at some point, a desperate float towards the edge of the falls, but there's never any doubt what the outcome will be. And that generally goes for most of the film's dramatic turns—you'll see them up ahead before they can bear down on you.
Still, Niagara is greater than the sum of its story, and there's a lot about the film to love. Monroe, for one, is a knockout. This might not have been her greatest acting performance, but she's magnetic here; your eyes can't help but follow her every move. (Particularly when she's walking away. It's hard to blame Ray for gawking.) And the latent jealousy that the plain Polly feels towards the stunning Rose is doubly interesting when you consider the real-life careers of Monroe—who gladly took on sex-kitten parts and burned the proverbial candle at both ends—and her good friend Jean Peters, who resisted being glamorized or objectified, and who bowed out of Hollywood completely after marrying Howard Hughes in 1957. As for the men, Max Showalter is a bit of a doofus as Ray—granted, that's what the role requires—but Joseph Cotten has a pent-up, troubled inner-rage that's genuinely menacing.
If Marilyn is the star, Niagara Falls themselves get second-billing, used well within the story and shot beautifully by Joseph MacDonald. By this point in the 1950s, proper three-strip Technicolor—which required bulky cameras, three times the amount of film stock, and lots of light—was rapidly being phased out in favor of cheaper, quicker, more portable workflows, like the single-negative Eastman Color system. But there's nothing like the look of a well-crafted Technicolor production, and Niagara certainly displays the format's key attribute—it's sweeping tonal range and all-around vividness. There's one shot of Polly standing near the falls with a rainbow in the mist behind her, and it's easy to imagine MacDonald behind the camera, smiling and nodding his head.
Niagara Blu-ray, Video Quality
Even if Niagara weren't very good, it would still be worth watching for the vibrancy and craftsmanship of Joseph MacDonald's gorgeous three- strip Technicolor cinematography. They really don't make 'em like they used to. 20th Century Fox's restoration and subsequent 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer ushers us back to the tail-end of the Technicolor era—the last Hollywood movie shot with proper three-strip cameras was 1955's Firefox —and as we've come to expect from their catalog releases, Fox's work here is top-notch. Beyond some light fluttering of brightness and hue on occasion, the print is almost entirely free of age-related damage. No scratches or specks. No overlay ghosting or stains. And while it sometimes appears as though some light noise reduction was used to attenuate a few of the rougher shots, natural film grain is always visible. The picture has a warm, organic quality that's a simple joy to watch. The color reproduction is as perfect as I can imagine—eye-popping, with creamy highlights that roll off beautifully—and clarity is excellent overall, revealing skin and clothing textures, and even the faintest peach-fuzz hairs on Monroe's arms. (Any softness that does creep in is usually found in the composite effects shots.) This is film noir gone candy-colored, and Fox has handled it wonderfully.
Niagara Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Viewers have two main audio options here, the default 5.1 mix and—for the purists—a 1.0 track, both in the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio codec. The multichannel offering is one of those subtle expansions of the original mono source materials, panning some quiet ambience and music into the rear speakers for a slightly fuller sense of room-filling immersion. It works well, overall, and sounds great, with no overt hisses or crackles. Dialogue is crisp and easily understood, the falls roar appropriately, and the ominous orchestral score—composed by the soon-to-be-blacklisted Sol Kaplan—has a rich presence that never grows tinny or peaks. The mono mix is equally adept, so choose whichever suits your audiophilic fancy. The disc also includes several dub and subtitle options; please see the top of the page for details.
Niagara Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, the only extras on the disc are the film's black and white theatrical trailer (HD, 3:03) and a collection of trailers for additional Monroe films in the Fox back-catalog.
Niagara Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While not as widely acclaimed as some of her subsequent films, Niagara put Marilyn Monroe on the pop-culture map, establishing her platinum blonde screen siren image. The film feels a little quaint today—suggestive more than explicit, with twists that come precisely as expected—but the combination of Marilyn's steamy presence and Joseph MacDonald's gorgeous three-strip Technicolor cinematography makes Niagara a trip worth taking. Further, 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release is a real stunner; what it lacks it special features—you'll only find some trailers here—it makes up in a nigh-perfect high definition transfer. Monroe fans will definitely want to add this one to their collections, and even more general golden-age-of- Hollywood enthusiasts will probably want to check it out. Recommended!
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Niagara Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Upcoming Fox Catalog Titles - May 9, 2013
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will bring three catalog titles to Blu-ray: Henry Hathaway's Niagara (1953), Joshua Logan's Bus Stop (1956), and Robert D. Webb's Love Me Tender (1956), and Rudolph Maté's The 300 Spartans (1962). All four titles will be available ...
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