This is Part 1
If you ignore my various neuroses, you might see that I am a fairly well-adjusted male. How is it, then, that I’ve never seen a Marilyn Monroe film?
Happily, I've rectified that situation. Recently, I rented Monroe’s 1953 breakout film Niagara. I was stunned. The similarities between this excellent movie and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo are numerous. Oh, and the blonde chick was gorgeous.
Both movies feature a blonde femme fatale who is obsessed over by a mentally unbalanced male lover. One big difference, though, is that Monroe's Rose Loomis is all steam and curves, whereas, Kim Novak's "Madeleine" is statuesque and glacially cool. I'll be coming back to this later.
Marilyn Monroe as Rose Loomis in Niagara.
Kim Novak as "Madeleine" in Vertigo.
The prominent use of bell towers in each film, in which the female leads each meet her doom, make the connection very obvious.
The Rainbow Tower in Niagara.
The bell tower of Mission San Juan Bautista. The original bell tower had been torn down about 10 years before the filming of Vertigo. Hitchcock "reconstructed" it using special effects.
There are similarities in mood as well. Both films have a transcendent, pristine quality that hearkens back to better days, a yearning for a more untroubled past. Some of the scenes also exhibit an Edward Hopperesque loneliness.
George Loomis (Joseph Cotten) taking a lonely stroll on the Canada side of the falls. (That's Toronto's Memorial Arch, which was demolished in 1967 to make room for a parking lot. Fie on them.)
Scottie Fergusen (James Stewart) follows "Madeleine" into San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor.
Niagara, set in Niagara Falls, emphasizes the pristine beauty and power of this natural wonder, while many scenes in Vertigo also speak to the ancient, eternal beauty of the natural world. (Both films also use these settings to dwarf the small, brief lives of their characters and to serve other thematic interests.)
George Loomis observed that Niagara Falls has had "10,000 years to declare its independence."
"Madeleine" and Scottie Fergusen gaze up at a tree that Scottie declares to be "2,000 years old or more."
Well, some of this has been commented on before. But I think there's more to consider, and a closer look at these films can even reveal something more about what Hitch was thinking about at the time. Stay tuned for part two.