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8 Niagara Colored Marilyns I’ve planned everything, The church and the ring, The one who doesn’t know it yet Is Marilyn. She hasn’t said “Yes” I have to confess; I haven’t kissed, or even met My Marilyn. —Ray Anthony and His Orchestra, “Marilyn” (Jimmy Shirl and Ervin M. Drake, 1952) It’s a wonderful world within these cinema walls Where a shower of affection becomes Niagara Falls And you wish she could step down from the screen to your seat in the stalls. —Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “The Invisible Man,” Punch the Clock (Costello, 1983) AlthoughNiagarawasreleasedin1953andthereforeappearedbefore BlackWidow, House of Bamboo, Slightly Scarlet, and A Kiss before Dying, it is in many ways the definitive ’50s color noir. One reason is that it was directed by Henry Hathaway, who had previously helmed The House on 92nd Street, The Dark Corner, 13 Rue Madeleine (1947), Kiss of Death (1947), and Call Northside 777. Frequently described as a “company man” or “house director,” the “consummate Hollywood professional” who “handled his material straightforwardly with few complica- 197 Niagara tions or pretensions,”1 Hathaway is one of the most underrated figures in classic noir, and Niagara—his only ’50s entry in the genre—is the key to a renewed appreciation of his work and its unique synthesis of “mystery narration” and “documentary realism.”2 The other reason that Niagara may be the definitive ’50s color noir is the photography of Joe MacDonald, who filmed The Dark Corner and Call Northside 777 for Hathaway and Pickup on South Street and House of Bamboo for Samuel Fuller. MacDonald’sTechnicolorcinematographyinNiagaraismorerigorouslyexpressivethanJohnAlton ’sinSlightlyScarletandpresageshisextraordinarywidescreen locationworkinHouseofBamboo.Moregenerally,MacDonald’scameraactivates color, lighting, and composition to plumb the mysteries of the film’s donnée: a marriage on the brink of destruction. In his contemporary review of Niagara in L’Observateur, “Chutes de reins et autres Niagara,” André Bazin observed that the film’s dual cinematic attractions werethe“famousFallsandMarilynMonroe.”3 WhiletheAmericanandCanadian Falls, like Technicolor and CinemaScope, possess an undeniable retinal charge, Monroeintroduces,asBazinremarks,a“wholesystem”of“complexallusionsand metaphors.”4 Bazin himself alludes to this system in the title of his review, which couples the falls and Monroe’s character, Rose Loomis, in the punning figure of the “small of her back” (chutes de reins). Bazin’s anatomical figure alludes to the second sequence in Niagara, in which Rose’s husband, George Loomis (Joseph Cotten), has returned from an earlymorning sojourn to the American Falls. Rose, hearing him at the door to the cabin they’ve rented, crushes a cigarette in an ashtray and turns her back to the camera,pretending to be asleep.In“Curving intoaStraightLine,”AnnReynolds remarks that in the subsequent reverse shot, Rose faces the camera, “her body extending almost the full width of the lower portion of the frame. The white bedsheetswrapandfallaroundherapparentlynakedbody,accentuatinghercurvaceoushorizontality .”5 AposterforNiagaraexploitsthisfiguration—“womanas landscape”—“representingMonroe’srecliningbodyasahorizontalsupplementto the lip of the Falls, its curves simultaneously sheathed and shaped by the rushing water that folds over and around them, mimicking the way in which the sheets wrap around her body in the film.”6 The“curvaceoushorizontality”ofNiagara’ssecondsequencederivesitsvisual forcefromtheverticalthrustofthefilm’sopening,whichcommenceswithawide, deep-focus view of the American Falls in the left foreground and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls in the right background before the camera descends to a long shot of a man traversing the rocky, mist-obscured base. If the rainbow that arcs across the screen conjures a primeval, Edenic scenario even as it nods to the prismatic glories of Technicolor overseen by color consultant Leonard Doss (a 198 New Media and Technologies key Technicolor advisor during the late 1940s and early 1950s), Loomis’s gloomy voice-over dispels any such paradisal notions: Why should the Falls drag me down here at five o’clock in the morning—to showmehowbigtheyareandhowsmallIam,toremindmetheycangetalong without any help? Alright, so they’ve proved it. But why not? They’ve had ten thousandyearstogetindependent.What’ssowonderfulaboutthat?Isuppose I could too, only it might take a little more time. Loomis’s voice-over is accompanied by an extremely low angle shot that underscores the immensity of the falls (“how big they are”) compared to the speaker ’s smallness (“how small I am”). Although the sexual subtext is too obvious to require commentary, it’s not readily apparent why the narrator desires to be as “independent” as the falls. What is apparent is that the narrator’s reflections spring from some recess or deep place in his mind, as if he’s not fully conscious of their import, as if—as in another...


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MARC Record
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