Monday, September 13, 2010
Niagara - 1953
(Remember to scroll down to the bottom of the page to pause the music first so you hear the video.)
As you can see by the trailer above, “Niagara” (1953) was a showcase built more around Marilyn Monroe than even Niagara Falls, though the Falls gets prominent play in this movie, as so too does Jean Peters. She’s the non-bombshell in this movie as we are repeatedly reminded.
Hollywood either saw her as box office or future box office, because although she had made quite a few movies before this one, “Niagara” was her most important role to date, and after this movie, it was stardom all the way.
The film has the Kodachrome look of old family vacation slides. We get a travelogue of Niagara Falls throughout the course of the movie.
The tension is provided by Joseph Cotten, a recently released psychiatric patient from a veterans’ hospital (shades of his character from “I’ll Be Seeing You” - 1945 - see this previous post), and his nubile, duplicitous wife, Marilyn Monroe. Miss Monroe, is actually quite good in this movie, despite the caricature the studio is already making of her as a sex object, playing a woman hatching a plot to murder her husband all the while playacting she loves him and is so worried about his mental condition.
But, being Marilyn Monroe with her star on the ascendant, we get a lot of eye candy which has nothing to do with the plot. Shots of her showering, of provocative poses, and costumes, and constant stares by all the males around her.
Their digs are a motel of efficiency cabins right by the Falls. Peters and Showalter have booked the same cabin, but Miss Monroe and Mr. Cotten have not vacated yet, and so the new couple agreeably takes another cabin.
Miss Peters observes, as do we, that there’s something not quite right about that couple in the other cabin. Miss Monroe is not the faithful wife she pretends to be. But what about Mr. Cotten? Is he really a sick man the way his wife contends?
Jean Peters, smart, open-faced and unassumingly friendly gets to decide that for herself. When the cabin neighbors are all dancing under the stars, Monroe comes out to enjoy the music alone, puts on a record she has brought with her, and joins the normal couple on the steps.
In a moment, Cotten barges out of their room and smashes the record in his hands like The Incredible Hulk. We begin to see that the tune has a deeper meaning, and her actions are calculated for effect. She is not embarrassed or worried about her husband; she is pleased that so many people have witnessed his over-the-top behavior.
She is planning for her boyfriend to murder him, and wants to make it look like suicide. It won’t be hard. It apparently doesn’t take much for Mr. Cotten to become unglued.
It is Jean Peters, not his wife, who rushes to his room with a first aid kit and mercurochrome to patch up the cuts on his hand. If you’re going to smash a 78 rpm record, wear gloves.
Cotten smashes the wooden model car he has been making in his room (more fun things to do when there is no cable TV) as he tells his back story about always messing up his life and how his wife is a tramp. He imagines she is unfaithful with every man she meets.
We don’t know that for a fact, but we do know that Miss Monroe is playing him like a violin, and uses his jealousy to lure him into a hidden spot where Boyfriend can knock him off.
Miss Peters’ goofy husband finally loses his remarkable serenity and is fed up with her continued involvement with the neighbors.
“We wait three years for a honeymoon and spend it with a couple of spooks!”
There’s a lot more danger and intrigue from this point, but if I go on, I’ll ruin it for anybody who hasn’t seen it. Just a couple of items about this movie that are fun to note:
The Carillon featured in this movie was part of the Rainbow Tower on the Canadian border side, and was completed in 1947. “O, Promise Me” is played on it early in the movie, I suppose to refer to the honeymoon connotations of the Falls, but popular tunes are also heard on it, and in one scene, a secret message is sent to Marilyn Monroe in a song. At the time this movie was made, the Carillon was played manually by a carilloneur. Today, it’s all automated.