Niagara (1953)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters
Extras: Restoration Demo, Still Gallery, Trailers

Part of Fox’s second wave of Marilyn Monroe discs, 1953’s ’Niagara’ features everyone’s favorite platinum blonde in a most uncharacteristic role. Directed by Henry Hathaway, ’Niagara’ is a dark film that features Ms. Monroe as a very evil femme fatale and not the lovable goofball that she was much better known for playing.

Rose Loomis (Marilyn Monroe) and her husband George (Joseph Cotten) are on a trip to Niagara Falls ostensibly to help George recover from some mental problems by revisiting a place where the couple once shared good times. But the scheming Rose has murder, not love, on her mind and has seized upon this trip as the perfect opportunity to have her lover (Richard Allan) murder her husband.

The vacationing Polly (Jean Peters) and Ray (Max Showalter) Cutler find themselves unwittingly in the middle of things and when Rose’s diabolical plan goes wrong Polly is the only one who recognizes the truth of what has happened.

’Niagara’ is often described as a Hitchcockian film and it certainly features many of the hallmarks of that director’s work — a stunning blonde bombshell, the darker aspects of the human character, and even a scenic locale — but the story never quite rises to the same level as, say, ’North by Northwest.’ Still, it’s an engaging and often startling film with an ending that takes full advantage of the scenic location (there’s something oddly comforting about the fact that even 50 years ago Niagara Falls was still the height of kitsch).

’Niagara’ is presented on DVD in its original 1.33:1 <$PS,full frame> format and features a nicely restored picture. The image is typically sharp with only a few blurry and soft-focus shots standing out. The transfer is also free from all but minor blemishes. The original negatives from the three-strip Technicolor process were used for this new transfer and the resulting colors and black levels are a thing of beauty. There is some minor film grain present, which should come as no surprise, but all in all this is a gorgeous transfer.

Audio comes in English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 2.0 Mono and 2.0 Stereo mixes as well as a French DD 2.0 Mono dub. Dynamic range is understandably limited with flat sounding high notes and no deep bass whatsoever. But dialogue is typically clear and for a 50-year-old mix things sound just fine. The stereo track opens things up a bit with a wider front soundstage and even some intermittent surround usage whereas the mono mix stays firmly anchored front and center.

Extras include a brief restoration demo that shows before and after shots of the film highlighting just how much hard work went into making this new video transfer. Next up is a still gallery of Marilyn Monroe shots. Finally, there are trailers for the other films in this second wave of Monroe flicks as well as a promo piece for the first Diamond Collection box set.

For some reason I could never cotton to the Marilyn Monroe character with which the moviegoing public was so enamored. The ditsy blonde bombshell of ’Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and ’The Seven Year Itch’ was all well and good but to see Marilyn Monroe as a true actress one has to look at her lesser known films in which she plays believable characters and not one-dimensional male fantasies. Films like ’Bus Stop’ and ’Niagara’ showcase Marilyn Monroe the actress and, while she still looks drop dead gorgeous, there’s much more depth to the women she portrays than first meets the eye.

’Niagara’ is a decent enough film that overcomes the shortcomings of an overly convoluted script that relies far too much on coincidence and the extremely poor luck of the Cutlers to propel the plot forward. The star-making performance by Marilyn Monroe and the exquisite cinematography more than make up for any problems. Fox’s new DVD offers a stunning new video transfer, adequate audio, and a handful of extras. Marilyn Monroe fans will certainly want to give this one a look.