' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Niagara (1953)

Friday, August 04, 2023

Friday's Old Fashioned: Niagara (1953)

In his recounting for Turner Classic Movies the production of 1953’s “Niagara,” David Sterritt noted that all the principals involved, from Twentieth Century-Fox Chief Darryl Zanuck to writer/producer Charles Brackett to director Henry Hathaway, wanted to take advantage of the famously scenic Niagara Falls locale on screen. Indeed, we see the Falls up close and from far away, from up above and down below, spotlighting both their majesty and their menace. The movie includes scenes on the Maid of the Mist tour boat, on the wooden walkways beneath the falls and in the caves behind them. It all suggests a movie production as kind of moving postcard, like Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” bringing the song of the islands to the mainland through the magic of the movies. Of course, “Blue Hawaii” was a musical romance whereas “Niagara” is a noir, and though Marilyn Monroe would demonstrate her musical talent the same very year in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” here she becomes a femme fatale, the movie’s poster putting into perspective how it spiritually equates the force of the falls with the force of Monroe.

Monroe plays Rose Loomis, married to George Loomis (Joseph Cotton), who begins the movie decrying Horseshoe Falls in voiceover while standing in their shadow for taunting and tormenting him, just as Rose taunts and torments him, the noir trapping of shadowy venetian blinds transforming their honeymooner motel room into his metaphorical prison. George gets some unconvincing backstory, and Rose barely gets any at all, her affair with some local hunk just a piece of plot, nothing more, though in one way, this is just as well, suggesting his motivation his nothing beyond the full-throated throes of lovelorn passion. Juxtaposed against them is a pair of newlyweds, Polly (Jean Peters) and Ray (Casey Adams) Cutler, who stay in the same motel and become embroiled in Rose’s scheme to off her husband only for him to off her instead. The Cutlers, however, are cut from something more like a sitcom, evoked in the virtually never-ending wide grin of Ray, a character so overbearingly cheerful that it seems to be setting up Polly to question her own relationship. But she never does, emblematically crystallized in a suspenseful conclusion that carries the gone-mad George over the eponymous cataract but not Polly.    

That belies “Niagara’s” strange conservative streak, not dissimilar to “Blue Hawaii,” in fact, where even as Elvis’s character begins the movie rambunctious, if not slightly rebellious, shunning the demands of his parents, by the end, he’s literally spanking a haughty young girl in his charge, now just a square adult square too. In “Niagara,” Marilyn Monroe is hung out to dry too, portrayed as nothing less than a kind of harlot, in the scene of her ultimate demise bathed in such a sharp crimson you would think she’s Hester Prynne, the movie wagging its finger right at her. Indeed, it might know how to show us Niagara Falls to sell it to the tourists, but when it comes to Monroe, like the scene where she shimmies out of her motel room and essentially stops the movie in its tracks by stopping all the characters in its tracks, “Niagara,” it turns out, is at a loss for words, so overcome, it decides to do her in. 

No comments: