With Niagara, Marilyn Monroe would receive top billing and would be do something she would never do again – be in a thriller and be a bad girl. Later roles like Bus Stop, The Seven Year Itch and The Misfits would see Monroe’s characters flirt around the concept, at least in the character’s past experiences, but here she was all bad, all the time. Playing Rose Loomis, Monroe would cheat on her husband and eventually plot to kill him. The reason why is never made readily apparent, perhaps it was simply boredom or perhaps it was her husband George’s general outlook on life that would bring it on. Whatever the reason, Rose goes to extreme lengths to concoct an elaborate plan which involves not only her lover but also a newly arrived couple, Polly and Ray Cutler. Things soon fall apart though when the wrong man dies, Polly learns the truth of the matter and instead of George being the one to die, that fate will end up befalling another.
Not only is Niagara a thriller, it is also a good example of a film noir despite it being filmed in colour. Monroe is all sex in this movie. Every curve of her body, her lips and her intentions are on the screen for all to see and she uses them to the very best of her ability. There is betrayal of the most basic kind, that which cuts deep, of trust and love and she commits it by the cheating she does on her husband played by Joseph Cotten, not to mention the plot to murder him so she might be with her much younger lover. She might have loved the man once and maybe there is still something there, but it is not enough to stop her from wishing him harm. Things do not always happen as they should though and even at the end of the film when Cotten has that key moment of remorse, after he has done what he has done and despite it all, wishes in at least one part of himself that he could take it all back, love is still present. It is a suspenseful movie and you cannot help but watch the events unfold as they do, one at a time as if they were planned and to a point, they were. When the Cutlers arrive, Rose in all her scheming sees a perfect opportunity to rope them in and make them a part of her plot and for the most part, it works until it does not. The film may not have been in black and white, but the characters in the film were just as complex as any other film noir ever made, the situations just as base and the crime just as deadly.
While it might have seemed like a risk at first to give Monroe billing above Cotten as he was far more established than she was at this time, it was a good move as she proved that she had what it took to do a serious role. While she would go on to primarily make comedies and musicals for the rest of her career, there were still a few films where she could be shown to buckle down and do a dramatic role when it was called for. This role in particular was a little more interesting for the fact that there was no instance of the flighty blonde present and no silliness, simply pure and deadly business. As a femme fatale, Monroe was great and it is a little sad to think that this would be the only time you would see this kind of role from her.
The Henry Hathaway directed picture would also feature the aforementioned Joseph Cotten as the tortured husband of Rose, a woman much younger than himself. Jean Peters would star as Polly, the woman who gets in the middle of it all on both sides of the fence with Max Showalter as her unwitting and somewhat oblivious husband Ray. Even though Monroe would be the main attraction, Peters was a beautiful woman herself and would have just as much screen-time as Monroe in the film, possibly more. Of course being a character unto itself, the idea to set this movie at the incredible Niagara Falls was not only a great choice of locale, but a great place to stage a murder. Exciting, thrilling and dramatic, Niagara is a trip you will not soon forget.