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Thursday, May 22, 2014

NIAGARA (1953)

Henry Hathaway’s physically ravishing infidelity suspenser (think POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE/’44 or DOUBLE INDEMNITY/’44, but from the cuckold’s POV) gets just about everything right. Stunningly shot by Joseph MacDonald, largely on location, the film inadvertently became something of a last hurrah for 3-strip TechniColor in the old Academy Ratio. And there’s a swing to the pace & a stylized visual daring, especially in its tower murder sequence, that seems to have popped unbidden from the artistic subconscious of these solid Hollywood craftsmen. The film was also the first of Marilyn Monroe’s 1953 triple breakthrough (GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE followed) and she never looked or came across better, odd line readings and all. She’s the younger, unhappy wife of Joseph Cotten’s neurasthenic husband, setting him up for an ‘accidental’ death at the hands of her lover. Two things complicate her lethal plot: a honeymooning couple at the same cabin motel overlooking The Falls (Jean Peters; Max Showalter), and the murder going wrong. A few plot holes are well covered by the general momentum while the period detail & naïf charm of Niagara Falls as it was is just about irresistible, perfectly caught, and wildly nostalgic.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Jean Peters, who’s just great here, would only make seven more features before her jealous lunatic of a husband (Howard Hughes, natch) put the kibosh on her career. While Marilyn Monroe, with a different set of troubles, would complete a mere eight more.

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