For a dress like that you gotta start laying plans when you’re 13

It’s difficult to assess the impact of Marilyn Monroe’s role in Henry Hathaway’s Niagara (1953), viewing her through a haze of myth, celebrity and commodity. It was her turning point film, the one that movie star bosses had pegged as her final step into the limelight. The promotional posters billed her as ‘a raging torrent of emotion that even nature can’t control’, as Monroe embraced the role of Rose. Unusually, for film noir, it was shot in Technicolor, the rich hues capturing the voluptuous beauty of the actress. Playing a femme fatale can’t have come easily to Monroe, whose strength was always in her comic timing, yet she lent her now-characteristic vulnerability to the character.

Much has been made of the techniques employed to enhance Rose’s sensuality, including the removal of a heel to create that legendary ‘bottom-wiggle’; one shot held the record for the longest walk in cinema for many years. Her wardrobe (or in some cases, lack of) caused something of a stir; in a night-time picnic scene she dons a spectacular pink dress that enhances her legendary assets. Designed by Dorothy Jeakins, the risqué, of the shoulder taffeta number was completed with an underbust cutout and a flirty bow. In that dress Monroe was perceived as such a threat to society the film was banned by churches upon its release.

In the early 1950’s, a female workforce increasingly threatened men, as women competed for jobs not just in factories (as during the war), but also within corporate and managerial roles. The decision to cast Monroe as Niagara’s femme fatale, all curves and breathy allure, can be read as a demonization of femininity, warning of the dangers of the fairer sex.  The importance of Dorothy Jeakin’s design is often overshadowed by another pink show-stopper Marilyn donned that year – as Lorelei Le in ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’ – but it was Jeakin’s creation that finally propelled her to the stratosphere.

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