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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/20/02

1953 (2002) - 20th Century Fox

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits


Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C+/C

Specs and Features

89 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 28:20, in chapter 10), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, bonus trailers, still gallery, restoration comparison, film-themed menu screens, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0 and mono) and French (DD mono), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Newlyweds Polly (Jean Peters) and Ray Cutler (Casey Adams) are honeymooning in Niagara Falls. Things immediately seem amiss when they meet vacationing husband and wife George (Joseph Cotton) and Rose (Marilyn Monroe). Rose's constant tales of George's poor health are called into question, when Polly spots Rose in the embrace of another man underneath the spray of the falls (catch the symbolism in that one!). George is wise to his wife's extramarital activities and confines himself to the cabin so he doesn't have to see her flirtatious behavior. But Rose's failure to conceal her indiscretions make her lover's (Richard Allan) plot to murder her husband under the rush of the falls privy to more eyes and ears than it should be.

The first half of Niagara plays out in a by-the-numbers plot to set up the conclusion of the story. You can see where the story is going at this point in time - Rose's relationship with her husband will come to an end so she can be with her lover... or will it? When the latter half of the film takes over, writer Charles Brackett weaves in a few bends to the storyline that make the movie a consistently gratifying viewing experience. What also works for Niagara, and what makes it so effective as a thriller, is director Henry Hathaway's background in the film-noir genre. He keeps figures lurking in the corners of the film frame to create a certain sense of unease and to heighten the tension. The one real weakness in Niagara is the Ray Cutler character. His part is not as strongly written as the other principals, and his constant dismissals of Polly's insights seem out of place and almost obligatory - a means of embellishing the film's compact 89-minute runtime.

Niagara has long been one of my favorite Marilyn Monroe movies, and I think it is undoubtedly the best performance of her career. It was an early departure from the stock comic parts she was given and, along with Bus Stop, proved her worth as a dramatic actress. Her intoxicating blend of sexuality, alluring screen presence and immediate ability to generate sympathy for her characters works fully to her advantage here. She's wholly believable as a femme fatale, and Joseph Cotton is equally good as a husband driven to the edge by his own insecurities about his marriage. There's a short scene here that doesn't entirely work (Marilyn does a brief singing number), but as a thriller, Niagara is completely satisfying from start to finish.

I've been waiting a while now for Fox to release Niagara to DVD, and after seeing the results, I'm glad they took their time. I've seen this film countless times on television and on VHS, and this is certainly the best the film has looked on a home theatre format. What once was washed out and dull is now all sparkly and new! Well, almost anyway. Given that the film is nearly 50-years-old, there's little to complain about here. Accurately framed in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the new transfer has many notable improvements over its previous incarnations. The strong point of the transfer is its color reproduction - brights are appropriately vivid and smooth and only occasionally give way to slight bleed. Black level is also strong, producing dense blacks that make the bold colors really stand out. There are a few knicks and scratches here and there on the print, but that's to be expected of a movie of this age. You'll also notice that the picture looks a bit soft around the edges and lacks fine detail that would otherwise give it a polished look. The quality of the restoration is undeniable, and fans of the film should surely be satisfied with the work put into this newly re-worked print.

The audio's not quite as impressive, but there's less to work with. The original mono track has been worked up to a lackluster 2.0 stereo mix. It's an uneven mix, and its most evident weakness is a dialogue track that is not properly localized to the center channel. Listen hard enough and you'll notice dialogue coming through both the right and left channels. This increased use of the separate channels has its advantages when applied to the thundering roar of the falls, and bass response is surprisingly effective in heightening the rumbling noises of Niagara Falls. The original mono mix is good and provides a stronger dialogue track, without the hiss and cracks that can normally be associated with older sound mixes.

The disc's filler material is just that - enough to add a little weight to the disc but that's all. You'll get the trailer for Niagara (in black and white), along with four other trailers for the other four films in the second wave of the Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection. The still gallery is a collection of 21 shots (all of Monroe) taken from the film in its various stages of production. The before and after comparisons of the restoration process are impressive and will give you a good idea of the work that went into making the film more presentable for the DVD format. You can see that the previous master was harsh with faded colors and plenty of wear and tear to make matters even worse. It runs just over a minute in length and it does sort of feel like Fox is toot-tooting their own horn. But so be it. The film looks all the better for their efforts. Let 'em take a bow.

Fox put a good deal of work into making Niagara looking as nice as it does. It's not a perfect picture, but it is CLEARLY better than its previous home video incarnations, and it does the film justice. If you like this film, you'll definitely want to pick up the disc. It comes packaged along with the newest Diamond Collection releases (including Don't Bother to Knock, Let's Make Love, Monkey Business and River of No Return) or on its own, affordably priced at $19.98.

Dan Kelly


Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection - Volume 2

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