Friday, September 17, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Niagara (1953)

It's been a busy week, filled with work and all the kinds of activities that go with the start of September, including soccer and marching band practices, as well as the resumption of homeschooling. Tonight I finally was able to finish a movie I started watching earlier this week, NIAGARA (1953).

I recorded NIAGARA a year or so ago, but since then it had sat in the mile-high stack of films I'm looking forward to seeing. On Monday I enjoyed Jacqueline's description of the film at Another Old Movie Blog, including her intriguing screen captures and the trailer, and then I pulled my tape out and bumped it to the top of my viewing list.

I love Traveltalk shorts, which provide such interesting color glimpses of the world as it existed from the '30s through '50s, and in some ways NIAGARA seemed like a Traveltalk inserted into a feature film. The movie makes grand use of the spectacular locations and is well worth seeing simply for the gorgeous views and the peeks at the area surrounding the Falls, including tunnels, bridges, an aerial cable car, and the Maid of the Mist boat.

The 89-minute movie mixes travelogue with a rather Hitchcockian tale of murder and intrigue, including excellent set pieces on stairs overlooking the Falls and later inside a bell tower. (The director was actually Henry Hathaway, who had many excellent film noir titles to his credit.) The film has its nerve-wracking moments, particularly a harrowing climax, but overall it's told with a nice light touch, thanks in part to a very appealing performance by Jean Peters as Polly Cutler.

Polly is on a delayed Niagara Falls honeymoon with her husband Ray (Casey Adams) when they become enmeshed in the strange problems of the couple in the motel room next door, played by Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe. It's a bit hard at times to understand what Polly sees in the overly jovial Ray, who is -- as Jacqueline notes in her post -- a bit of a goofball; yet because Polly wins our sympathy, we figure if she liked Ray enough to marry him, he must be an okay guy!

George and Rose Loomis (Cotten and Monroe), on the other hand, are very unhappily married, and Rose keeps hinting that George has mental problems. Viewers learn early on that it's all part of an elaborate plan created by Rose and her boyfriend to bump George off and make it look like suicide at the Falls. But when Rose arrives to identify her husband's body at the morgue, she receives quite a shock.

For many people Marilyn Monroe is the big draw to see this film, but while she was fine in her role, Jean Peters is the actress and character I really enjoyed in this film. I've seen Peters in a number of films and don't think I've yet seen her prettier on film than she is in NIAGARA. She looks great in Technicolor and has a lovely wardrobe by Dorothy Jeakins (THE SOUND OF MUSIC). The audience can easily empathize with Polly's friendly, likeable character, and we worry when she finds herself in frightening situations.

I really enjoy Joseph Cotten, but he's not very likeable in this. That's due to Cotten's fine acting...he's all too good at playing a very creepy fellow. He played another scary guy in Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT a decade earlier, but that character was designed to be charming as part of his M.O.; George Loomis, on the other hand, is just creepy!

Here is a great website with beautiful photos and comparison shots of modern-day Niagara Falls with the film. I was interested to learn that Rainbow Cabins Motel was a set built for the film; the linked site says it later became a real hotel, while a different site says it was taken down when the film was completed.

Don Wilson plays an executive from Ray's company who hosts the Cutlers on a tour of the area, along with his wife, played by Lurene Tuttle. Look for Harry Carey Jr. in a bit part as a taxi driver who exchanges a few lines with Monroe. Familiar faces like Will Wright, Arch Johnson, and Minerva Urecal have small roles.

NIAGARA has been released on DVD in more than one edition. It's also had a VHS release.

This film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies and Fox Movie Channel.

NIAGARA is an interesting film with great visual appeal. I'm glad I finally caught up with it and saw it this week.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you for the link. I enjoyed your views on "Niagara", and I get a kick out of doing tandem movie posts. Those posters are so striking.

The movie feels a bit forced in parts, like certain scenes were shaped to jet propel Monroe's career (not that she probably needed much help), and I wonder if the film would have had more balance towards the other characters if another actress played in MM's role?

At times, one is compelled to wince for Jean Peters' sake as she seems constantly compared to MM. No one stares at her. She has the less glamorous wardrobe. She suns herself in a bathing suit and though we see she is a beautiful woman, the camera seems to say that with MM around, Peters is inferior.

But I agree with you, I think Jean Peters is more interesting to watch in this film. She has many levels to her, whereas we've figured out MM almost from the start. MM is clearly a force to be reckoned with on screen, but no longer a mystery once we understand her intentions.

4:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your additional comments, Jacqueline. I agree, it's fun to review films back to back!

I like what you mention about Peters' character having many levels...that was something I enjoyed (including watching how she reacted to her goofball husband...the scene of them dancing is really cute). It was an interesting moment when Polly's husband is photographing her in a bathing suit, endlessly coaching her on her pose, and then just before he can snap the picture...Marilyn's shadow ruins the shot. Interesting message there! Although for my tastes, Marilyn's look here is overdone and brassy...while Polly was truly beautiful, inside and out.

Best wishes,
Laura

11:10 AM  

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