The Notorious Bettie Page

The first rule when adding the adjective "notorious" in a movie title is to make sure that the movie is so.  The Notorious Bettie Page manages to take the 1950s pin up icon and turn her and her life story into something extremely boring.  It's a bit of a shame, since Gretchen Mol does a great job as Page and looks gorgeous, and director Mary Harron does a wonderful job in using colors and black and white to evoke a bygone era, but the movie is just so darn dull.  For those who do not know, Page was considered the queen of the pin-up girls.  She modeled in the 1950s, mostly in bikinis for men's magazines.  Page shot to fame modeling bondage-type photos for Irving Klaw, and nudes for Bunny Yeager.  In recent years, she has had a huge revival in popularity, although Page herself stays out of the spotlight.

The Notorious Bettie Page follows her life from a young girl through the late 1950s, when Senate hearings forced Klaw (Chris Bauer, Broken Flowers, Keane) to shutter his business.  Harron (American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol) and screenwriter Guinevere Turner (BloodRayne, American Psycho) paint Page (Mol, The Shape of Things, Get Carter) as an innocent and sometimes naive model and aspiring actor and Christian.  They ignore the later parts of her life, with her jobs in Christian organizations, alleged stays in mental institutions, marital problems with multiple husbands, and bankruptcies.  Instead, the film focuses on Page's rise to superstardom as a pin-up model.  There is little sleaze on her part; she just thinks that all of those poses are just for silly pictures.

Page grew up in Tennessee in a strictly religious household.  She was extremely bright, and aspired to be a teacher.  Circumstances changed, and she moved to New York, where she was discovered as a model.  In an industry populated with thin, good-looking models, Page (and Mol) had a very appealing natural beauty that distinguisher her from the other women.  She also had trademark bangs that hung low over her forehead, framing her face.  As Harron portrays her, Page jumps from one gig to another, slowly rising in popularity.  She laughs at the silly things that Klaw wants her to model - corsets, thigh high boots, gags, and such, but does them anyway.  Nudity doesn't bother her, and the photographers often remind her she needs to cover up in order to stay on the proper side of the law.  Everybody seems nice, and again, there's nothing sleazy about the business.

The entire film just feels like a white washed version of Page's life.  Why was/is she so popular?  So she's beautiful and models in the nude and in bondage gear.  So what?  Harron never gives the viewer a good reason to care.  Fans of Page will enjoy a glimpse into Page the person, but anybody who did not have a good idea of who she was will walk away from the movie wondering what all the fuss was about.  Nevertheless, Harron does a great job with the look of the film.  Most of it is in black and white, giving The Notorious Bettie Page a period specific look to it.  She also adds some nice splashes of retro looking color, primarily when Page travels to Florida to model nude for Yeager (Sarah Paulson, Serenity, Down with Love).  Yeager and Page look like they stepped out of an old television show.  But a nice looking movie is no substitute for plot or drama, and The Notorious Bettie Page is seriously lacking in both.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Rated R for nudity, sexual content, and some language.

Back to Movies