The Notorious Bettie Page

April 21st, 2006


The Notorious Bettie Page

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Still of Gretchen Mol in The Notorious Bettie PageStill of Gretchen Mol in The Notorious Bettie PageMary Harron at event of The Notorious Bettie PageStill of Lili Taylor in The Notorious Bettie PageMary Harron in The Notorious Bettie PageStill of Gretchen Mol in The Notorious Bettie Page

The story of Bettie Page, uber-successful 1950's pin-up model, one of the first sex icons in America, and the target of a Senate investigation (based on her bondage photos).

Release Year: 2005

Rating: 6.7/10 (5,963 voted)

Critic's Score: 64/100

Director: Mary Harron

Stars: Gretchen Mol, Lili Taylor, Chris Bauer

Portrait of an American innocent. In 1955, Bettie Page (1923-2008 ) waits to testify before a Senate subcommittee investigating the effects of pornographic material on American adolescents and juveniles. In flashbacks, we see her childhood in Tennessee, a brief marriage, a gang rape, and her going to New York City in 1949. There she takes acting lessons, models for photos, and acts in short films for adults, earning the nickname, "The Pin-Up Queen of the Universe." We see her relationship with merchants Irving and Paula Klaw, photographers John Willie and Bunny Yeager, boyfriends, and the public. Through it all, she is wholesome, sporting, and forthright - Eve before the fall.

Writers: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner

Gretchen Mol - Bettie Page
Chris Bauer - Irving Klaw
Jared Harris - John Willie
Sarah Paulson - Bunny Yeager
Cara Seymour - Maxie
David Strathairn - Estes Kefauver
Lili Taylor - Paula Klaw
John Cullum - Preacher in Nashville
Matt McGrath - Nervous Man
Austin Pendleton - Teacher
Norman Reedus - Billy Neal
Dallas Roberts - Scotty
Victor Slezak - Minister in Miami
Tara Subkoff - June
Kevin Carroll - Jerry Tibbs

Taglines: The Pin-Up Sensation That Shocked The Nation.


Official Website: Picturehouse Films |

Release Date: 21 April 2006

Filming Locations: Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA

Opening Weekend: $143,131 (USA) (16 April 2006) (20 Screens)

Gross: $1,410,778 (USA) (25 June 2006)

Technical Specs

Runtime: USA:  | Canada: (Toronto International Film Festival)

Did You Know?

The dialog in the courtroom scenes were taken from transcripts of the real event. In addition, some of the lines Chris Bauer says, in particular the ones spoken to Lili Taylor in the courthouse waiting room, are taken directly from letters and statements in the real life of Irving Klaw.

Factual errors: The film depicts Bettie as being OK with the fetish/costume/bondage modeling - and being quite naive as to the erotic uses of such photos. This is exactly opposite from how the real Bettie Page felt about modeling. Her attitude basically was that "God made us nude, so how bad could it be?" but the more extreme fetish posing fostered sexually deviant desires. The numerous fully nude shoots she did for amateur camera clubs bears this out.

[for her photo shoot, Bettie is tied up wearing slinky lingerie]
John Willie: Do you mind if I ask you a question, Bettie? What do you think Jesus would think about what you're doing now?
Bettie Page: Well, Mr. Willie, I've thought about this quite a lot and I'm not really sure if I know anymore. I think God has given us some kind of talent and he wants us to use it. That's why he gives it to us.

User Review

Nororious or safe?

Rating: 10/10

If this film strikes you (as it did us and, apparently, others departing the theater) as disappointingly thin, it may be because the subject herself is mildly disappointing. The film faithfully presents us Bettie Page as she probably was: a playful almost-innocent from the rural South whose career as "the pinup queen of the universe" was for her just goofy, natural fun. Her eventual moral qualms, religious conversion and sudden departure from nude and bondage modeling are biographically accurate, yet hard to understand given how untroubled she seemed by her livelihood.

There are many reasons to see this film even so, not least of which are the amazing b&w noir cinematography of W. Mott Hopfel III (complete with old fashioned wipes and dissolves), the 1950's-faithful acting of the cast under the direction of Mary Harron, pitch-perfect performances by some of our most underrated supporting actors (including Chris Bauer, Lili Taylor, Sarah Paulson, Austin Pendleton, Dallas Roberts and Victor Slezak), not to mention the Oscar-worthy and technically difficult lead performance of Gretchen Mol.

Ms. Mol does several scenes fully naked and most others in amazing period lingerie and "specialty" costumes (gloriously assembled by costume designer John A. Dunn), yet she astonishingly maintains Bettie Page's unstudied pleasure in her lush body. To watch Ms. Mol as Ms. Page, an aspiring actress, progressing through degrees of progressively less "bad" auditions and student acting scenes is to see a truly fine actress in complete control of her craft.

The script does effectively bring us into 1950's America, where childhood sexual abuse, lawless abduction and rape, and the legal suppression of brands of pornography which today seem laughably tame, is a reality. 50's New York is evoked with seamlessly-inter cut news reel footage. 50's Miami comes alive in super-saturated, 16mm-style color. The real Bettie Page seems to scamper, smile and pose before us, and yet the effect is curiously lightweight, barely lewd and not at all dangerous.

How odd that bondage's greatest icon should be so lacking in venom, and that this technically excellent biopic should have so little sting.


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