Haworth, Catherine (2007) There isn't any other song: music, Monroe, and female agency in 'Niagara'. In: Sound, Music and the Moving Image, 10–12 September 2007, Institute of Musical Research, University of London. (Unpublished)

'Niagara' (d. Henry Hathaway, 1953) opens with two young honeymooners, Polly and Bud Cutler, arriving at their Niagara Falls holiday cabin and being introduced to the charming Rose Loomis (Marilyn Monroe) and her husband George. After Polly stumbles across Rose in the arms of another man, she realises that all is not as it seems in the couple’s relationship. Rose’s plot to get rid of George for good gradually becomes clear as Polly tries to fulfil the role of detective despite the disbelief of Bud and the local police.

The presentation of Rose’s adulterous relationship is heavily constructed around the song ‘Kiss’, written for the film by Lionel Newman with lyrics by Haven Gillespie. Monroe does not perform the song in full during 'Niagara', although it was successfully released as a single to tie in with the film. However, a significant sequence early on in the narrative shows an extended close-up of Rose ecstatically listening to a recording of ‘Kiss’ and murmuring along seductively to the words, prompting a somewhat bemused response from Bud and Polly and an angry fit of jealousy from George, who knows that the song represents her lover. Rose continues to taunt George by whistling and humming the melody whenever possible, and she uses it as a musical code to communicate with her lover. In addition, Sol Kaplan’s orchestral score features material derived from the song throughout the film, even in those scenes where Rose is not actually on screen.

This paper will examine the particular role played by ‘Kiss’ in both creating and containing the agency of female characters, especially Monroe’s, in 'Niagara'. The song becomes tied inextricably not only to Rose’s duplicity and desirability in this particular narrative, but also to Monroe’s carefully constructed sexuality, image and off-screen persona at this stage in her career. However, ‘Kiss’ also comes to symbolise Rose’s downfall towards the end of the film, and its dual use as an accompaniment for some of Polly’s scenes can perhaps be read as an aural expression of the difficulties faced by this character in getting anyone to take her suspicions seriously.

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