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Film / Niagara

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"Why should the Falls drag me down here at five o'clock in the morning? To show me how big they are, and how small I am? To remind me they can get along without any help? All right, so they've proved it. But why not? They've had ten thousand years to get independent. What's so wonderful about that? I suppose I could, too, only it night take a little more time."
opening narration by George Loomis

Niagara is a 1953 American 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), arriving for a delayed honeymoon at Niagara Falls, find their reserved motel cabin is still occupied by George and Rose Loomis (Cotten and Monroe). After the Cutlers politely accept another, less desirable cabin, the two couples become acquainted.

The Loomises have a troubled marriage. George is jealous, depressed and irritable, and has recently been discharged from an Army mental hospital after his war service in Korea. Rose is younger, very attractive, and bored. During their time at the Falls, Polly discovers that Rose is having an affair with another man, and both Cutlers witness George's rage. Soon enough, Polly becomes a confidante of sorts to George, while Rose's intentions turn out to be 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:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: After killing Rose, his criminal wife, George is heartbroken and he says: "I loved you, Rose. You know that."
  • Alone with the Psycho: Polly finds herself alone with George, the murderer of Patrick, three times.
    • Polly is sleeping in her cabin, when George, who expects to find Rose and has a knife to stab her, enters the room. She wakes up and he runs away.
    • During her second visit to the Falls, Polly is left alone for a moment and George finds her. She runs away and nearly falls into the Falls, but George saves her.
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    • In the end, she is alone with George on the boat that he stole to flee to the US.
  • 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. He also pulls a Redemption Equals Death by saving her from plunging over the falls with him.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Relatively minor. Not only did the "Rainbow Cabins" motel never exist, but there's no courthouse in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Or a "City Morgue". Then or now! When the movie was made, Niagara Falls was in Welland County, with the historic Welland Country Courthouse being in Welland, Ontario. Welland County was amalgamated with neighboring Lincoln County in 1970; however criminal cases in "Niagara South" are typically still tried at the Welland County Courthouse.
  • 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.
  • Big Fun: Mr. Kettering, the garrulous Nabisco executive showing the Cutlers around town.
  • 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.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: A platonic, or sub-textual, version of this trope exists between George and Polly, even though both of them are married to other people.
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • When the Cutlers visits the waterfall for the first time, we see how the token system of the cloakroom works. It becomes an important plot device later, when George uses it to fake his on death.
    • When Rose gives Patrick a phone call, the camera lingers on Patrick's black and white shoes. Later in the film, these shoes become an important plot device, since George collects Patrick's shoes instead of his own at the entrance of the waterfall to fake his own death.
  • 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.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Rose tells Patrick to request the Rainbow Tower Carillon play the song "Kiss" to let her know that George is dead. Actually, George kills Patrick. George was not aware of Rose's plan, but he still requests the carillon play "Kiss" to unnerve her.
    • To flee to the US, George steals a boat. This boat happens to be the one used by the Cutlers and the Ketterings to go fishing.
  • Coupled Couples: The film contrasts the highly troubled marriage between George and Rose Loomis with the more conventional happy one between newlyweds Polly and Ray Cutler. There is a level of platonic emotional intimacy between George and Polly as she becomes The Confidant to him, and Ray is open about finding Rose attractive (but not to the extent of considering any kind of infidelity).
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Subverted. George does indeed fly into jealous rages when Rose is friendly with other men, but it is soon revealed that he is Properly Paranoid: not only is she unfaithful, but she is conspiring to kill him.
  • 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!
  • Disney Villain Death: Sort of. George is a murderous Anti-Villain who redeems himself by saving Polly just before plunging over Niagara Falls to his death.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The events of the film occur over 3 days: the time the Cutlers had for their belated honeymoon.
  • Faint in Shock: When Rose, confident that the plan has succeeded, is summoned to identify whether or not the found corpse is her husband's, she faints instantly upon seeing Patrick's body in the morgue. At this, everybody present ends up believing that the victim really was George as they wrongly presume that she fainted from grief. Many hours later, long after the police have been informed that George has not died, Rose was still lying on a hospital bed completely out cold from the shock of this moment.
  • 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. Even after the body is discovered, he still gets to continue faking for a little while longer, thanks to Rose passing out without uttering a single word as soon as she saw that the corpse is actually Patrick's (and remaining deeply unconscious for hours).
  • 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 masterminded 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 somewhat of a second-string Alfred Hitchcock (Kiss of Death, Call Northside 777), and there are quite a few similarities between Niagara and Hitchcock's own thriller films of the period, right down to a blonde woman as the focus of the story. Some commentators, in fact, have speculated that Hitchcock might have even cribbed 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.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: Patrick planned to murder George by the waterfall. George kills him in self-defense.
  • 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.
  • Noodle Incident: The Cutlers are having a delayed honeymoon at Niagara Falls, and it is never revealed what it was that caused their original honeymoon plans to be cancelled.
  • One-Word Title
  • The Place
  • 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.
  • Run for the Border:
    • Patrick plans to flee to the US after murdering George.
    • When she realizes that George is still alive, Rose tries to cross the border, but George kills her before she can do it.
    • In the end, George steals a boat to cross the border, but the police chases him and the boat finally goes over the Falls.
  • 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 sent home from The Korean War for "battle fatigue" (despite only serving as a company clerk) 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 carillon tower, where he can catch her alone with no escape.
  • Wakeup Makeup: Rose wakes up from a dead faint in the hospital with her hair styled and her makeup done. Justified here, as her hair was styled and her makeup was done at the time she fainted—provided that falling down in her dead faint and subsequently being transported to the hospital wouldn't have messed up her hair and makeup too much.