It sometimes seems like director Henry Hathaway wasn’t sure if Niagara was a lugubrious melodrama or a white-knuckle thriller, but the film is at its best when it hints toward a third option: a lurid, blazingly bright film noir starring Marilyn Monroe in perhaps her unlikeliest role ever — a sexually supercharged femme fatale. We’re used to seeing Monroe play flouncy, breathy dimwits, either oblivious to her own sexuality or using it to casually manipulate men. Here, her sexual agency can be downright terrifying, and even though the film eventually undercuts her and its own noirish tendencies, there’s enough here to make for a fascinating film, even if it’s mostly unrealized potential.
To be sure, the brilliant Technicolor does a lot of the heavy lifting here (one wishes for the expressive adventurousness of someone like Minnelli, who would have gone really wild with this scenario and palette), splashing the sexual tension across the screen in vibrant tones like Marilyn’s impossibly red lipstick. Her innate passion as Rose Loomis stands in sharp contrast to Polly and Ray Cutler (Jean Peters, Casey Adams), a couple taking a long-delayed honeymoon to Niagara Falls that’s more motivated by Ray’s professional ambitions than any romantic notions. He’s got a big stack of books with him, and he makes sure to let border patrol know he’s planning on catching up on his reading, much to Polly’s chagrin.
Staying in the cabin that’s supposed to be theirs are Rose and her unstable veteran husband, George (Joseph Cotten). His sudden outbursts cause the Cutlers to empathize with Rose, assuming she’s in danger of becoming a victim to her husband’s unpredictability, but she’s far more in control of the situation than they suspect. Niagara unfortunately shifts into fairly conventional thriller mode in its final act, opting for a couple of decent setpieces that turn the characters into pawns and downplay the more garish (and interesting) stylistic elements. Nonetheless, a half-realized, brazenly colored film noir starring Marilyn Monroe is better than nothing at all.
The Blu-ray Disc
Presented in 1080p high definition and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Niagara has been granted an insanely gorgeous Blu-ray transfer. The tricky Technicolor looks absolutely perfect, both vibrant and deeply saturated. The red lipstick, the yellow raincoats and the blue roar of the falls all possess that unreal beauty, and the image never falls prey to fading, inconsistent colors or really, any significant damage at all. The restoration on this title has produced an impeccably clean, sharp image with unadulterated film grain and nothing less than a filmic look in every shot. Audio is presented in both uncompressed mono and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The 5.1 opens up the soundscape a little, but it’s still pretty front-heavy, delivering the film’s dialogue cleanly and crisply.
Sadly, there’s nothing here aside from the film’s trailer and a selection of trailers of all the other recent Fox Monroe Blu-ray releases.
The Bottom Line
The superb disc turns a fitfully fascinating project into an absolute must-own.