In the first of a series for the Classic Movie Hub website, Gary Vittaco Robles looks at Marilyn’s star-making performance in Niagara. Gary is (of course) the author of the two-volume biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, upon which his new podcast, Marilyn: Behind the Icon, is also based.
“Niagara was Marilyn’s only opportunity to portray a villainous, narcissistic woman with virtually no redeeming qualities who conspires with her lover to murder her husband … Interestingly, studio memos suggest original casting consideration of Monroe in for the role of Polly, and Anne Baxter as Rose. However, studio mogul Darryl F. Zanuck’s image of Monroe likely cemented her fate as—in the words of the film’s marketing—the ‘tantalizing temptress whose kisses fired men’s souls.’
[Director] Henry Hathaway’s reputation was that of a tyrant who belittled and cursed his actors. However, he took an immediate liking to Monroe, or perhaps she melted his icy exterior. Hathaway considered Monroe’s opinion when editing the daily rushes and allowed her input to the selection of takes chosen for the finished film.
For the first time, Monroe was hailed for precision in her acting in a leading role. ‘The dress is red; the actress has very nice knees,’ wrote Otis Guernsey of New York Herald Tribune, ‘and under Hathaway’s direction she gives the kind of serpentine performance that makes the audience hate her while admiring her, which is proper for the story.’ Time hailed its full-bodied assertion, ‘What lifts the film above the commonplace is its star, Marilyn Monroe.’
In the final analysis, Monroe served Fox well. Niagara cost $1,250,000 and returned $6,000,000 in its first release. She had achieved global stardom. Nearly seventy years after its release, Niagara retains its nail-biting suspense, showcases Monroe’s dramatic talents, and illustrates its leading lady’s transcending appeal and charisma. She had personified the culture’s standard for beauty and sensuality.”