'Niagara' (1953) Review: Beautiful Piece of Technicolor Noir

At 27 years-old and with less than a decade to live, in 1953 Marilyn Monroe was  on the cusp of the kind of superstardom the ambitious Norma Jeane Mortenson probably never even dreamed of, and “Niagara” was one of the vehicles that put her there. The femme fatale Rose was Monroe’s first starring role — the improbably sexy young wife plotting to murder her husband George (Joseph Cotten), an embittered, older and jealous man who rescued her from life as a honky-tonk waitress.

With only good intentions and against their will, Ray and Polly Cutler (Max Showalter and Jean Peters) get wrapped ’round the axle of this mess. The young couple is on a delayed honeymoon in Niagara Falls, and George and Rose are in the cabin they reserved. Setting up a murder that is supposed to look like suicide, Rose claims George is sick — you know, in the head.

Rose isn’t very good at this sort of thing, though and before the 89-minutes are over, this is the fact that adds all kinds of plot twists and turns.

“Niagara” is a superbly-crafted noir tale, but the rare one filmed in color. Much of the production is filmed on-location, and the scenery mixed with Technicolor and the art design of the time — all of it in Bluray high-definition — makes for one gorgeous motion picture.

And so of course does Marilyn. The camera practically gropes her, especially during the first act. Marilyn is introduced to us in bed wearing only piercing red lipstick. Then it’s one tight dress to another with only a shower scene in-between. This was 1953, so everything is left to the imagination — but my imagination still hasn’t cooled off.

Later that same year, Marilyn would go on to star in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “How to Marry a Millionaire.” Both titles are better known than “Niagara,” but not as good.

“Niagara” hits store shelves July 30 and is available at Amazon.com.