Niagara is an American 1953 Film Noir thriller directed by Henry Hathaway, starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, and Max Showalter (back when he was still using the Stage Name Casey Adams).
Ray and Polly Cutler (Showalter and Peters), on a delayed honeymoon at Niagara Falls, find their reserved cabin occupied by George and Rose Loomis (Cotten and Monroe). The Cutlers politely accept another, less desirable cabin, and so the two couples become acquainted.
George and Rose have a troubled marriage. She is younger and very attractive. He is jealous, depressed and irritable, and has recently been discharged from an Army mental hospital after his war service in Korea. During their time in the Falls, Polly discovers that Rose has an affair with another man, and the Cutlers witness George's rage. Soon enough, Polly becomes a confidante of sorts to George, while Rose's intentions soon become muddier than they seem.
Monroe was given first billing in Niagara, which elevated her to star status. Her following two films of that year, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, with Jane Russell, and How to Marry a Millionaire, with Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall, were even bigger successes. One of the last films for Jean Peters, who soon retired from the screen in order to marry Howard Hughes.
This film contains examples of:
- Anti-Villain: In the end, George is this. The movie states that he was discharged from an Army mental hospital after his war service in Korea, implying that he suffers from the psychological effects of the war, he kills Rose's lover but it's in self-defense because Rose and her lover conspired to kill him, which eventually leads him to kill Rose, and he shows his human side to Polly, even when it's too late for him.
- Being Watched: After George goes missing and is presumed dead, Polly sees him, alive and watching her. He finally catches her on the boardwalk above the falls, where he confides in her what really happened.
- Beta Couple: The Cutlers have far more screen time than the Loomises, but their role is to provide a contrast of being the happy young couple compared to the more troubled Loomis marriage.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Rose Loomis is very charming to the Cutlers and everyone else, and convincingly acts very frantic and worried when she can't find her husband, whom she has set up to be killed by her lover.
- Buxom Is Better: The cheerfully horny Roy tells Polly to turn so he can get a profile picture with his camera. When she only turns her face he says "Profile!" Polly smirks at him knowingly and turns her torso to show off her breasts to the camera. Roy then pushes further by telling her "Inhale! You've got nothing to hide, inhale!" After doing an obvious mental eye roll Polly complies again.
- Character Signature Song: Rose's favourite song, "Kiss" by Lionel Newman and Haven Gillespie, plays a major role in the plot. George breaks her record when she puts the song on to play, suspecting that she associates it with a secret lover. He's right; she instructs her lover, Patrick, to get the carillon to play the song when he has killed George, but George kills Patrick in self-defence, and later has the carillon play "Kiss" to unnerve her.
- Climbing Climax: Rose, chased by George, climbs to the top of the Rainbow Tower. George follows her to the top and strangles her. But, this is also a subversion, since this happens with around 20 minutes left to go in the film, before the actual climax: George stealing the boat with Polly still in it.
- The Confidant: Polly comes to serve as one for George, as he confides things in her that he cannot in anyone else.
- Decoy Protagonist: Marilyn Monroe's character, of all people, is this. She gets top billing but not only is she the villain, she dies before the climax!
- Faking the Dead: After killing Patrick in self-defence by the waterfall, George takes the opportunity to pretend he's the one who died, collecting Patrick's shoes instead of his own at the entrance.
- Feet-First Introduction: Or a feet-first re-introduction. After what is presumed to be George's murder, we see someone wearing Ted Patrick's shoes creeping back to the cabin. It's George, who has killed Ted instead.
- Femme Fatale: Rose as the curvaceous bombshell manipulating her husband while plotting with her lover to kill him. An Oddball in the Series for Monroe's career, being a rare example of a movie where she played a villain.
- Foil: The scheming, adulterous, blonde would-be Black Widow Rose Loomis is a foil to the honest, faithful, dark-haired Girl Next Door Polly Cutler.
- Foreshadowing: George uses the danger of the Falls as a metaphor to warn Polly early on about letting love get out of hand. At the climax of the film, he goes over the Falls to his death, after saving Polly from the same fate.George: You're young. You're in love. Well, I'll give you a warning. Don't let it get out of hand like those Falls out there. Up above it - did you ever see the river up above the Falls? It's calm and easy. If you throw in a log it just floats around. Let it move further down and it gets going fast. It hits some rocks, and in a minute it's in the lower rapids, and nothing in the world, including God himself, can keep it from going over the edge. It just goes.
- Hassle-Free Hotwire: George manages to hotwire a boat in an attempt to get away.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Patrick lies in wait to kill George and throw him over the falls, but George turns the tables and kills Patrick in self-defence. He then chases down and kills Rose, who was in on the plot.
- In the Style of...: Henry Hathaway was mainly known as a director of Westerns and Action movies, but he was also adept at being a second-string Alfred Hitchcock (Kiss of Death, Call Northside 777) and there are quite a few similarities between Niagara and Hitchcock's films from The '50s, right down to a blonde woman as the focus of the story. Specifically, some commentators have wondered if Hitchcock might have borrowed some ideas for Vertigo from Niagara (the shots of George following Rose, plus the bell tower scene, being the most obvious examples).
- Inevitable Waterfall: The climax, in which Polly is stuck on a boat moving inexorably toward the lip of the titular waterfall with the mentally unstable George. He pulls a Redemption Equals Death by helping her climb out onto a rock before he plunges lethally over the edge.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Rose and Patrick conspire to kill George Loomis. It backfires.
- Ms. Fanservice:
- Well, it is Marilyn Monroe. When Rose strolls out of her cottage wearing a tight dress, Ray says "Get out the fire hose!", and the other partygoers simply gawk. She even still has all her makeup and lipstick on when she wakes up in the hospital after having fainted and been sedated.
- Jean Peters, quite attractive herself, has a few moments that count, particularly her sunbathing scene.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: George gets one before strangling Rose to death.George: Too bad. They can't play it for you now, Rose.
- Record Needle Scratch: In-Universe when George angrily takes the record off the record player and snaps it to pieces.
- Redemption Equals Death: George's chase eventually ends with him saving Polly from going over the Falls, at the cost of him going over the Falls to his death.
- Scenery Porn: The Technicolor shows off Niagara Falls quite well. Much of the first act plays like a Travelogue Show, up until the revelation that Rose is having an affair.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Part of the reason why George is so emotional and prone to rage. He was discharged from the Korean War for "battle fatigue" and hospitalized for a time.
- Sleeping Single: It seems especially cruel to be sleeping single when your wife over in the next bed is Marilyn Monroe.
- Too Dumb to Live: Rose sees her homicidal husband. She's at Niagara Falls, a place packed with tourists. She chooses to climb to the top of a tower, where he can catch her alone.
- Your Cheating Heart: Rose Loomis is having an affair with Patrick. They conspire to kill George.