While NIAGARA certainly offered Marilyn Monroe one of the darkest roles of her career, this movie required her to be little more than gorgeous window dressing much of the time. Does any woman ever wake up from a nightís sleep, nude and with that much makeup- still perfectly applied? When she isnít only exuding sex appeal, Marilyn does get in a number of good on screen moments, which demonstrate that she was a more than capable dramatic actress. In NIAGARA, Marilyn portrays the filmís resident femme fatale, an adulterous wife who, with the help of her handsome young lover, is planning the murder of her understandably jealous older husband. Directed by Henry Hathaway, NIAGARA proves to be a top-notch film noir (in glorious Technicolor nonetheless) that greatly benefits from the majesty of a second natural wonder- namely Niagara Falls.
The plot of NIAGARA concerns young couple Polly and Ray Cutler (Jean Peters & Casey Adams), who are taking a belated honeymoon at Niagara Falls. While staying at a Niagara Falls motel, the honeymooners become involved Rose and George Loomis (Marilyn Monroe & Joseph Cotton), whose marital woes become immediately evident. While Rose goes slinking around in tight fitting outfits, Georgeís fits of jealous rage evidence his precarious mental condition. However, when Roseís plot to eliminate George goes awry, Polly and Ray find themselves unwillingly dragged down into an ever growing undertow of deceit and murder. The cast of NIAGARA also features Denis O'Dea, Richard Allan, Don Wilson and Lurene Tuttle.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made NIAGARA available on DVD in a terrific looking full screen transfer that frames the movie in its proper 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Coming from newly restored elements, this transfer is the best that this half-century-old movie has looked in quite some time. Almost all of the IB Technicolor brilliance has been restored to this edition of NIAGARA. For the most part, the colors are wonderfully vibrant and threaten to leap off the screen. Even the location photography benefits from the kind of hues that the old Technicolor process was capable of producing on film. Color reproduction is quite stable, without noise or smearing in the most intense of hues.
The image itself is usually sharp and very nicely defined. Occasionally, individual shots or parts of shots appear a bit soft, but I think that might be attributable to age and a tiny bit of mis-registration between the three-strip elements. Blacks are fairly inky, whites appear crisp and shadow detail is good for a film of this vintage. As for the restored film elements themselves, only very minor blemishes serve to remind one that NIAGARA was released in 1953. A very fine grain structure is occasionally noticeable, and contributes to a film like quality for the presentation. There are no noticeable signs of digital compression artifacts during the un-spooling of the film.
NIAGARA is offered with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack, which sounds pretty much like slightly thickened version of monaural. Still the track does convey the "roar" of Niagara Falls far better than what could be accomplished in single channel monaural. Fidelity is pretty good for an early fifties production, although there is no significant top or bottom end in these recordings. However, background hiss and surface noise would appear to have been digitally cleaned off the track to create a pleasant aural experience. Dialogue is crisply rendered and always fully understandable. English and French monaural soundtracks are also present on the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. As with the other titles in Foxís second wave of Marilyn Monroe titles, NIAGARA includes a brief demonstration that compares a previous video incarnation of the film to its new counterpart with both film and video restoration. Theatrical trailers for DONíT BOTHER TO KNOCK, MONKEY BUSINESS, NIAGARA, RIVER OF NO RETURN and LETíS MAKE LOVE have also been provided on the DVD. A brief still gallery closes out the DVDís extras.
NIAGARA is a terrific Technicolor noir, which gives Marilyn one of her darkest and sexiest roles. The film also greatly benefits from being shot on location in Niagara Falls, which gives the movie a terrific sense wonder. Foxís DVD edition looks terrific making its acquisition a no-brainer for movie buffs and Marilyn Monroe fans.
NIAGARA is available individually on DVD for $19.98 or as part of the Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection Volume II for $79.98.
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