My (Slightly More Than) Month with Marilyn: Niagara (1953)
Back to our interrupted My Month with Marilyn! I know it’s been awhile but we’re back with the final eleven films and we’re jumping right into the 1953 thriller, Niagara. This is my second time viewing Niagara and I have to say, I liked it better the second time. It’s somewhat in the vein of Don’t Bother to Knock, but in this case Marilyn plays a villain, and not of the psychotic variety. No, here she’s just your average, run-of-the-mill cheating spouse. She’s still the best part of the movie, in my opinion, as the rest of the actors are either lackluster (Joseph Cotton) to downright annoying (Jean Peters and Max Showalter). It’s a good thriller for Marilyn, but it’s only a mediocre movie.
In a small vacation resort in Niagara Falls, newlyweds the Cutlers (Peters and Showalter) are trying to enjoy their honeymoon. They meet the tempestuous Rose and George Loomis (Marilyn and Cotton), who are trying to rekindle their marriage since George’s release from an Army hospital. Unfortunately, Polly Cutler discovers Rose is fooling around on the side. Rose herself is hatching a plan with her lover to kill George, but this obviously goes awry.
Let’s get all the connections out-of-the-way because there’s a lot of people in this movie connected to Marilyn. The film is directed by Henry Hathaway who directed The Clarion Call in O. Henry’s Full House with Marilyn and also stars Jean Peters who was in The Last Leaf in Full House as well as being in As Young As You Feel. Ironically, Peters replaced Anne Baxter in this movie. If you’ve been following along, Anne Baxter played Peters sister in The Last Leaf and was also in All About Eve with Marilyn. I swear by the end of this I’ll need a family tree to keep all the connections together!
In regards to the movie, the Loomis story is far more interesting than the boring Cutlers. Rose is a beautiful woman who unfortunately is married to an impotent man. It’s never mentioned explicitly that George is impotent but he mentions his “condition” which was usually code for “impotence.” Either way you know George hasn’t been right since that trip to the Army hospital and his paranoia that Rose is going to leave him steadily increases. Rose isn’t necessarily a villain, she’s just a beautiful girl who wants to be sexual and unfortunately she can’t be with her husband. Despite this does Marilyn play a good villainess or what? When George starts accusing her of planning to leave she says, “Sure. I’m meeting somebody, just anybody handy, as long as he’s a man! How ’bout the ticket seller himself? I could grab him on the way out, or one of the kids with the phonograph. Anybody suits me. Take your pick.” She knows exactly how to rile him up and hit him where it hurts. If anything this movie proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Marilyn could act. Gone are the dumb blonde moments or the sex kitten schtick where she relies on her hips, here she’s all about hurting someone because they’ve hurt her. I’d say this proved to me her talents more than Don’t Bother to Knock or Clash by Night.
The sad thing is how little time is devoted to Rose and her story. She gets a good forty minutes of screentime, and I won’t spoil what happens, but after that forty minutes you’re stuck with George and the boring Cutlers. Cotten’s character is so rotten to me, yet at the end as he’s trying to flee in a boat holding Polly, he takes the time out to try to get her off the boat! Dude, you can’t be an awful person then try to backpedal just because you “tried” to get someone out of harm’s way! On the other hand you have Showalter overacting as Polly’s husband. I can’t take this guy seriously considering he was the grandfather in Sixteen Candles. On top of that he’s the typical male who tells his wife “you’re seeing things” when Polly says she keeps seeing George. I always say if a person says they saw some strange guy peeping at them…take it seriously!
Peter is especially bland, and even more dull because she’s meant to be our heroine. I’ve always thought of Jean Peters as a pretty lackluster actress. Before the few films I’ve seen her in I always assumed her sole claim to fame was being Howard Hughes’ wife! Nope, she was an actress to. It’s not that she’s bad, just unmemorable. She’s cute sure and has a classically beautiful face, but there’s nothing behind the eyes. Marilyn walks on stage and you know so much about her character. A scene of her in a shocking pink dress speaks volumes. Peters shows up with her hair in a ponytail and dressed like she’s 12. I know we’re meant to take away something about her being the good girl and Marilyn being bad but if being a good girl means being a dull plank of wood like Peters than give me bad! The last twenty minutes are a chore to sit through because it’s just Peters reacting to things in a pool of water.
I’m glad to give Niagara a second chance but it’s still not one of my favorite movies (my mother on the other hand loves this film). It’s brilliant when Marilyn is on-screen, looking probably as beautiful as I’ve seen so far, but after her departure you’re left with a group of dead-eyed overactors which isn’t very fun.
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
I totally disagree with you. YOu aare not being fair. Jean Peters is a much better actress than you give her credit for. You should take a look at Pick UP on South Street. Marilyn wanted that part, but director Sam Fuller tested her and saw she didn’t have the dramatic experience needed to play Candy. He saw Peters’ test and immediately signed her (also Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner and Betty Grable tested for the part of Candy and were turned down by Fuller). Jean Peters was beautiful, and let me tell you, without the tight dresses, make up or bleached hair, and in a pony tail and drab dresses for an 11 year old, as you say, I found myself looking only at Jean every time she and Marilyn were together on the screen. Many of my friends feel the same. Peters gave an excellent performance in Niagara, too. Now I like Marilyn, but Peters strikes me as a better performer and she’s very natural actress (they say she hated the idea of Fox turning her into a sex goddesss and fought the studio and was suspended many times for refusing sexy roles).
I can’t say I dislike Peters as an actress. I enjoyed her in Viva Zapata! and O. Henry’s Full House. I can definitely understand her appeal, she just didn’t work for me in this film. Thanks for giving me all the background on her, I didn’t know she had strong principles, always nice to hear about an actress who refused to be a sex object. Thanks for reading!