The Notorious Bettie Page

  • Film
  • Drama
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There’s a note of Hitchcockian irony in the title of Mary Harron’s latest. As the pin-up who titillated the libido of ’40s and ’50s America in both innocent-nudie cheesecake and soft-naughty dominatrix shots, Bettie Page came to be associated with what the Right perceived as a moral threat to American youth. Yet, like Ingrid Bergman in Hitch’s ‘Notorious’, Page emerges from this picaresque account of her life – from high school in mid-’30s Nashville to the Senatorial hearings two decades later that preceded her departure from the trade – as a sympathetic, even wholesome victim of reputation.

As played (terrifically) by Gretchen Mol, Bettie is sweet-natured and tolerant, God-fearing and sincere, hopeful of a legit acting career but proud to provide a little pleasure and have some fun along the way. And fun is the word: the soft-core industry is presented as a supportive community of misfits, including the always-welcome Lili Taylor and Jared Harris as a louche, soused English snapper. Think ‘Ed Wood’ meets ‘Boogie Nights’ – who knew shooting ‘Second Initiation of the Sorority Girl’ would be such a giggle?

Harron (‘I Shot Andy Warhol’) again proves her aptitude for period pop culture with spot-on soundtrack choices and design details, and punctuates the B&W photography with gloriously garish faux-Technicolor moments. But the production carries a cheap whiff, which might suit the subject but makes it harder to engage with. Bettie’s steadiness compounds this: juvenile gang-rape, the skin trade and public scorn come and go without denting or even modifying her essential peachiness. Her self-sufficiency – naive yet thoughtful – seems to defy worldliness, and therefore change, which makes her paradoxically inspirational and apart. A portrait of the centrefold as a closed book.

Release details

Rated: 18
Release date: Friday August 4 2006
Duration: 90 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Mary Harron
Screenwriter: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
Cast: Gretchen Mol
Chris Bauer
Jared Harris
Sarah Paulson
Cara Seymour
David Strathairn
Lili Taylor
Jonathan M Woodward
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