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On Jan. 21, 1953, 20th Century Fox opened the Marilyn Monroe-Joseph Cotten melodramatic thriller Niagara in New York. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review, headlined “‘Niagara’ Gripping Meller Full of Sex and Suspense,” is below.
Around the scenic splendor of Niagara Falls, Charles Brackett has produced and co-scripted a gripping murder melodrama that is loaded with sex and suspense. With Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten and Jean Peters turning in superb performances that help maintain a mood of dynamic tension, Niagara should pile up huge grosses for 20th-Fox.
One of a very few murder yarns to be filmed in Technicolor, Niagara, under the skillful megging of Henry Hathaway makes wonderful use of the falls to heighten the suspense and to add pictorial beauty to the production which gains additional exploitation value by its locale, never before used as the focus for a motion picture plot. Those who have never been to Niagara will be fascinated by the exciting shots of the falls, the awesome grandeur of which has been thrillingly captured by Joe MacDonald’s fine photography.
Story is built around an attempt at murder that misfires. Marilyn Monroe plots with Richard Allen to kill her husband, Joseph Cotten, the conspirators planning on meeting in Chicago after Allan has done the dirty work. To set the stage for what must be made to look like suicide, Marilyn builds up the idea that Cotten is a psychopath, telling Jean Peters and Casey Adams, a couple enjoying a belated honeymoon at the falls, that he has just been discharged from a veterans’ mental hospital. When the news breaks that Cotten has disappeared and a body found in the river, it is assumed that he has killed himself. Called to the morgue to identify her husband, Marilyn collapses when she sees that the dead man is Allen, killed by Cotten in self-defense, and is taken to the hospital.
When Miss Peters later sees Cotten and tells her husband, Adams dismisses it as a dream, convinced that Cotten is dead. Meanwhile, Marilyn, fearing Cotten’s vengeance, escapes from the hospital only to be pursued by Cotten and strangled. From then on the film becomes an exciting manhunt which ends when Cotten steals a motorboat with Jean aboard and races for Buffalo, pursued by the police. The boat, running out of gas, gets caught in the rapids, heading for the falls, Cotten smashes up the craft, hoping to scuttle it. The boat floats near a rock and Cotten pushes Jean to a ledge from which she is rescued in thrilling fashion by helicopter after Cotten goes over the falls with the boat.
Hathaway draws splendid performances from his cast and maintains a taut, spicy tempo that grips the attention consistently. Miss Monroe turns in her finest acting performance yet, adding to her acting laurels by playing a sexy tart with a provocative abandon that has a powerful impact. Cotten is excellent as the unfortunate husband, drawing sympathy yet managing to imbue his characterization with a hint of the psychotic that makes his death the only logical conclusion. Jean Peters also turns in a warm, sensitive performance as the honeymooner drawn into the murder intrigue, with Casey Adams fine as her somewhat bewildered husband. Don Wilson contributes some good comedy relief with a skillful and amusing portrayal of a jovial sales tycoon. Others standing out include Denis O’Dea, Richard Allen, Lurene Tuttle, Russell Collins and Will Wright.
Sol Kaplan’s music, directed by Lionel Newman, helps heighten the mood of suspense, with other technical functions on the high-quality level one expects from 20th-Fox productions. — Staff review, originally published on Jan. 20, 1953
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