Directed By: Mary Harron
Starring: Gretchen Mol, Lili Taylor, Chris Bauer
Tag line: "The Pin-Up Sensation That Shocked The Nation"
Trivia: Hugh M. Hefner, a good friend of Bettie's, held a private screening of this movie for Bettie Page and a small group of friends
She was called “The Queen of Curves” and “Miss Pinup Girl of the World”. Bettie Page, a Tennessee native who found success as a model in 1950’s New York, appeared in photos that were as scandalous as they were sensational. Though tame today, many of the BDSM pictorials and 16mm films that Page was featured in were deemed pornographic at the time, leading to an investigation by a Senate Committee into the negative effects such photos were having on the youth of America. Yet despite all the controversy surrounding her, Page’s popularity never waned (she was even one of Playboy magazine’s earliest centerfolds).
The Notorious Bettie Page, the exceptional 2005 biopic written and directed by Mary Herron, stylishly delves into the life (both public and private) of Bettie Page while also celebrating the vivacious spirit that turned a God-fearing girl from Nashville into one of the era’s most recognizable sex symbols.
As she waits to testify at a Committee hearing headed up by Sen. Estes Kefauver (David Strathairn), Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) reflects on her life, from her early days in Nashville and her failed marriage to college football star Billy Neal (Norman Reedus) to the events that brought her to New York City, where she hoped to make a fresh start.
It was while strolling on the beach at Coney Island one sunny afternoon that Bettie met Jerry Tibbs (Kevin Carroll). An NYPD officer and part-time photographer, Tibbs convinced Bettie to take up modeling, and before long she was posing for Irving Klaw (Chris Bauer) and his sister Paula (Lili Taylor), whose bondage-themed photos were pulling in a small fortune. In addition to working for the Klaws, Bettie also posed for Bunny Yeager (Sarah Paulson), a Florida-based photographer whose nude pictorials appeared in magazines across the country.
Page and her entire profession came under scrutiny in the late ‘50s when the Feds launched an investigation to determine the legality of bondage photos. But by then she'd already had enough, and in 1959 Bettie Page became a born-again Christian, and would never again take her clothes off in front of a camera.
Along with her striking resemblance to the title character, Gretchen Mol delivers a fantastic performance as Bettie Page, who, despite her unfortunate past (aside from her marriage to the abusive Billy Neal, there are hints that a teenage Bettie was molested by her father), was always upbeat, and in full control of her own image (during one outdoor photo session she wows a novice photographer by happily agreeing to pose for him in the nude). In addition, writer/director Mary Herron’s bold decision to shoot The Notorious Bettie Page in black and white proved a stroke of genius, and gave the finished product the look and feel of a movie from the era in which its story is set (even the brief splashes of color, including all of the film’s Florida sequences, look as if they were shot in ‘50s-era Technicolor).
With its fine supporting cast (especially Jared Harris as the slightly odd John Willie, a business associate of the Klaws’), exceptional sets and costumes, and the often seamless manner in which period stock footage is incorporated into the movie, The Notorious Bettie Page is, without a doubt, an impressive biopic. But it’s the combined talents of Mol and Herron, not to mention the film’s fascinating main subject, that make it unforgettable.