Back in the 1950s, Bettie Page was one of the most famous and infamous pin-up models in the world. Her face could be found in innumerable magazines and on postcards, and her more risque work was highlighted in hearings on indecency. The movie The Notorious Bettie Page looks at the life of this very simple lady who became such a sensation.

Gretchen Mol stars as Bettie Page, a young religious woman who leaves Nashville, Tennessee to pursue her dreams of acting. Following a disastrous marriage, Bettie heads to New York City, where she finds few acting roles -- but plenty of work as a model. Apart from mainstream photos, she also did some racy bondage and s&m photos and short films for the brother-and-sister erotic photography team of Irving Klaw (Chris Bauer) and Paula Klaw (Lili Taylor). Bettie also works with John Willie (Jared Harris), an erotic photographer, and Maxie (Cara Seymour), a more experienced model who gives her some lessons on modeling.

There are storm clouds on the horizon. Raids on pornography are prevalent -- the movie opens with an undercover bust of a store that sells Bettie Page photos -- and a Senate hearing had the goal of proving that pornography is corrupting the nation's youth. As the chair of the Senate committee, Estes Kefauver (David Strathairn) alleges that viewing such pictures leads to "suicide, murder, and psychosis."

The Notorious Bettie Page is a good film, but not a particularly insightful one. Gretchen Mol is the spitting image of Bettie Page, and Mol allows her character to be an almost-innocent girl who's famous for her racy pictures. There's little conflict between her modeling and religious beliefs -- she tells someone, "All we're doing is taking pictures" -- and she seems happy to keep doing photos while frustrated not to be an actress. Director Mary Harron evokes a feel for the repressive atmosphere of the 1950s, but her focus on Bettie Page is more of a simple look at one person rather than an examination of the world in which she lived. The supporting cast is fine, and the mostly blac-and-white filming lends an element of nostalgia, but overall The Notorious Bettie Page is a bit superficial. It's still fun, though! (The dvd also includes interviews with the cast, along with a short film starring the real Bettie Page.)

Overall Grade: B

Reviewed by James Lynch

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