Anyone who believes Marilyn Monroe was just a stunning spectacle or a light comic actress and little else needs to see films like Bus Stop and Niagara and be prepared to be surprised by her dramatic worth.
Niagara is a tense somewhat noirish melodrama from 1953. Director Henry Hathaway capitalises on the stunning scenery on offer, and that is of course both Niagara Falls itself and Monroe's unquittable body. Quite amusingly, and realistically, he takes time to depict the jawdropping and/or favourable reactions of everyone she passes; two sailors waiting for a bus to Chicago admire her famous 'jello on springs' walk, whilst the kids having a dance around the record player at the holiday park all but stop in their tracks when she comes amongst them. And her appearance sparks some great dialogue too, most notably Ray Cutler's (Casey Adams) aside to his wife, Polly (Jean Peters, hardly a wallflower herself!) "Why don't you ever get a dress like that?" Her reply - "Listen. For a dress like that, you've got to start laying plans when you're about thirteen"
That dress gets Peters and Adams talking!
Scripted by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch and Richard Breen, Niagara's plot is a familiar one; Monroe plays the scheming adulterous wife of neurotic veteran Joseph Cotton. Her plan is for her new beau to bump off Cotton, chucking him into the rapids, before fleeing for Chicago and a new life. Wait, hasn't this postman rung twice before? Well, into this scenario steps unwitting honeymooning couple the aforementioned Cutlers and it's Polly who slowly and accidentally stumbles her way into the plan becoming our heroine.
Jean Peters is superb as the newlywed but she's let down significantly by the 'golly gee' rosy cheeked stylings of Adams' performance. Better of course is Joseph Cotton, whose depiction of an overwrought man unable to control his love and eventually his hate, but I feel this is very much the girls show with Monroe and Peters being utterly watchable throughout and, though representing two very different kinds of femininity, they both prove to be incredibly easy on the eye.
Ultimately the film's pace and interest starts to slacken when it loses its noirish trappings (and Monroe) to become an almost Hitchcockian man on the run style thriller, but Hathaway the old hand proves he's extremely capable with several set pieces and an often beautifully shot film never really outstays its welcome at just 85 minutes long.