“Doomed holidays dominated the silver screen in 1953. While M. Hulot did his worst in France, director Henry Hathaway chose the Niagara Falls as the backdrop for his film in which Ray and Polly Cutler (Max Showalter and Jean Peters) take a delayed honeymoon. They show up at the falls to find their cabin already occupied by George and Rose Loomis (Joseph Cotten and Marilyn Monroe), and Monroe (above) is about to reveal herself as a force of nature to rival Niagara. Her murderous love life comes close to sending everyone, unlucky lovebirds included, over the edge.”
Stylistmagazine includes Marilyn’s white halter-neck dress from The Seven Year Itch in its list of 45 iconic movie styles. Personally, I love her cutaway dress from Niagara. Designed by Dorothy Jeakins, Marilyn wore it to several public events in 1952. What’s your favourite Marilyn movie look?
Chris Finn, curator of the recent ‘Marilyn in Canada’ exhibit at the McMichael in Toronto, will discuss Marilyn’s time in Canada filming Niagara and River of No Return at the RiverBrink Art Museum, Niagara, on July 17 at 2pm.
” ‘(Niagara) was her first major acting role, and she was drawing quite a bit of attention,’ says Finn, McMichael’s assistant curator. ‘It seemed like she had a much closer relationship with the people she met on the street than any other time in her career after that.’
Monroe was a voluptuous star on the rise when she arrived in Niagara Falls in the summer of 1952…The city was abuzz with sightings, but few people got closer than photographer Jock Carroll, who followed Monroe on the set, on the town, and even in her hotel room…
‘She seemed very interested in mugging for the camera in order to create some humorous shots,’ says Finn. ‘It seemed like an interesting period of time, and (Carroll) spent quite a bit of time speaking with her as well.’
By the time she returned to Canada the following summer, Monroe was a superstar. Filming for ‘River of No Return’ took place in Banff, Alberta…Look Magazine sent photographer John Vachon to profile her, ending up with the first pictures of Monroe and Joe DiMaggio together.’
Marilyn’s visit to the Oneida cutlery factory while filming Niagara in 1952 – as chronicled by Jock Carroll – is remembered by one former employee, Alec Tanos, who also met his wife of sixty years, Pauline, while working there.
“When movie star Marilyn Monroe was in Niagara Falls in 1952 shooting the movie Niagara, she had the opportunity to tour the Oneida plant.
When Marilyn walked by where Alec was working, he gave her a whistle and Marilyn stopped for a brief second and flashed him a smile.
‘When my dad was 21, he had a smile that would kill women. When Marilyn toured the factory he was the only guy to whistle at her and she smiled at him. How can you blame my mother for feeling so special when he whistled at her,’ said Robert.”
The original soundtrack albums for Niagara and River of No Return have been released on a compilation CD by the Intrada label. Niagara includes The Starlighters’ version of ‘Kiss’, as requested by Marilyn in the movie. Marilyn’s own recordings do not appear on the CD, but these are already widely available.
The compilation was released in February in a limited collection of only 1000, and unfortunately, it has already sold out. However, used copies can be found on Ebay. Hopefully Intrada will consider a reissue?
“RIVER OF NO RETURN / NIAGARA
Label: Intrada Special Collection Volume 157
Date: 1954 / 1953
Time = 62:12
World premiere release of two soundtracks for classic 20th Century-Fox films starring Marilyn Monroe. RIVER OF NO RETURN is 1954 Otto Preminger river journey/adventure tale co-starring Robert Mitchum, Rory Calhoun. Rich, evocative score by veteran Fox composers Lionel Newman, Leigh Harline, Cyril J. Mockridge puts emphasis on action with raft rescues, Indian attacks, more. Presented in solid stereo from excellent condition master elements. Classic title song by Tennessee Ernie Ford appears as well. (Monroe vocals are controlled by another company and were not available for this CD.) NIAGARA is 1953 Henry Hathaway tale of murder set at famous falls, co-starring Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters. Sol Kaplan creates dark, lurid score for orchestra, emphasizing noir-ish climate. Presented in mono as recorded for film. Album produced by Nick Redman, informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo. Lionel Newman conducts. Intrada Special Collection release limited to 1000 copies! SOLD OUT!”
Peter Goddard has reviewed ‘Life as a Legend’ and ‘Marilyn in Canada’, both now showing at Toronto’s The McMichael.
‘Norma Jeane Baker was naked, not yet “a nude,” in posing for Kelley. Her pale arms are outstretched behind her head, thrusting out her breasts. Elsewhere her arms are reaching up and above her head to elongate her languid body shape. Her face suggests a post-coital glow. Her ruby red lips are parted ever so slightly, as are her brilliantly white teeth, to suggest the pleasure she feels, not the pleasure she was determined to elicit in the viewer’s gaze.
This was Norma Jeane on the cusp of developing the Monroe look, the chilly hauteur killer stare the actress brought to each studio-sanctioned headshot, her eyes looking zoned out, her hair off her forehead except for a well-placed curl. (Only Mel Ramos, king of the pin-up drawings, ever imagined Monroe as happy.)
My uncertainty about the enormity of raw anger in this look, found everywhere in the show, led me to contact Natalka Husar, the talented Toronto painter and art teacher whose own work has led to her portraying rebellious and often fierce young women.
“MM as a mask of anger makes me think of de Kooning’s women, ferocious yet bombshells,” Husar replied in an email. Monroe’s red lips, “usually open and supposedly a come-on, really seem to be saying f-off. There’s attitude masking a pain.” ‘
Marilyn visited Canada at least three times: as 18 year-old Norma Jeane Dougherty, in 1944; and while filming two of her movies, Niagara (1952) and River of No Return (made in 1953, released ’54.)
In February 2011, the touring Marilyn Monroe: Life as a Legend exhibit arrives in Ontario. The McMichael Canadian Art Collection are also curating ‘Marilyn in Canada’, featuring photos by John Vachon and George S. Zimbel (taken in New York City during filming of The Seven Year Itch), as well as contemporary Canadian art inspired by Marilyn.
During the long ‘Family Weekend’ of February 19-21, the exhibition opens with guided tours, films and music along with special programming every day based on these shows.
I hope that photographer Jock Carroll, whose book, Falling for Marilyn, chronicled her time in Niagara, will also be featured.
There could hardly be a more perfect setting for a Marilyn Monroe movie season than the Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. The screenings accompany the Marilyn: Life as a Legendexhibit, which runs from October 23 through to January 2.
Nice to see two of Monroe’s lesser-known films on schedule: Don’t Bother to Knock (a 1952 thriller containing one of Monroe’s most impressive dramatic performances) and River of No Return, a visually arresting Cinemascope western from 1954, with some great musical numbers from Marilyn (though a bit light on realism!)