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8 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Notorious Bettie Page, The
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by Scott Weinberg

"Smart, sweet, sultry, and sexy -- Both the movie and the woman its about."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: "The Notorious Bettie Page" is a movie full of revelations; it brings to light the somewhat sordid and generally unhappy career of the world's most celebrated pin-up girl -- and it features an absolutely astonishing lead performance from Gretchen Mol, an actress who's done some fine work in the past, but nothing as drop-dead fantastic as what she accomplishes here.

There are two huge and glowing components of The Notorious Bettie Page that make it my #1 favorite of the 2005 Toronto Film Festival. One is the staggeringly wonderful performance from Ms. Mol; the other is director Mary Harron's brilliant approach to the material. Set throughout the late 40s and all of the 50s, this movie is so beautiful to look at ... I found myself smiling in appreciation of even the smallest piece of period detail. Ms. Harron (last seen directing the excellent American Psycho) opts to present the tale in gloriously noir-ish black and white (with only a few splashes of intentionally grainy Technicolor in certain sequences), and the effect is so damn perfect, you'll have a hard time separating the filmed material from the 1950s stock footage.

Bettie Page was a sweet-natured and unassuming young lady from Tennessee who stumbled into fame (some would say infamy) after a failed marriage and one too many unsuccessful acting auditions. Starting out as a sexy model clad in bathing suits and such, the raven-haired beauty soon graduated into the realm of nudity and bondage -- which seems pretty odd when you consider what a sweet and sunny disposition this religious gal obviously had. Regardless of how "vulgar" her photographs may have become, Ms. Page looked at her work as harmless fun, mainly because she was so innocently and blissfully unaware of how many leering perverts the world possesses.

Gretchen Mol captures the sweetness, the sexuality, and the allure of Bettie Page with an almost heartbreaking exuberance. With another actress, Page would have been portrayed as a vamp, a vixen, a tease, or a harlot -- but those who knew Bettie Page considered her a true innocent; a woman with the face of an angel and a body built for sin, but underneath it all was a truly sweet soul. And Ms. Mol nails it all, from top to bottom and everywhere in between. Her portrayal of the famous model is sweet, sunny, sexy, and at times, seriously funny. Those who know Gretchen Mol only as "that girl from Rounders" will soon be rethinking that opinion.

Although a somewhat conventional biopic in some respects, Ms. Harron (along with co-screenwriter Guinevere Turner) pays very close attention to the facts, with next to no tolerance for editorializing or judgment calls. In the hands of a different director, a Bettie Page movie could have been a leering and/or judgmental piece of storytelling, but such is definitely not the case here. Ms. Page's time spent in the public eye is revisited with fairness, objectivity, and a keen sense of detail. Our heroine is not depicted as a horny harlot nor as a bubble-headed innocent, which allows you to empathize with the gal at the same time you're simply gripped by her journey.

The Notorious Bettie Page has no grand, sweeping statements, nor is it loaded with overdramatic grandstanding or moralizing. We're not asked to approve of the woman's actions, and we're not required to endorse her career choices. This is a film made with affection for its subject, but it never seeks to deify or oversimplify the gal. Plus it's surprisingly funny, intermittently quite sexy, and simply gorgeous to look at.

Aside from the obvious beauty of Ms. Mol playing Bettie Page, the movie also offers a gaslight noir-esque visual palette that's just dazzling to behold. Few movies I've seen have been able to capture the sights, the sounds, and the general feel of the 1950s underbelly like The Notorious Bettie Page does, which makes the surface quite slick and lovely, but also manages to wrap you up in the time period with effortless grace.

Toss in a few fantastic supporting performances from David Strathairn, Lili Taylor, Chris Bauer, and Jared Harris, and you're looking at one of the best bio-pics I've seen in several years. "The Notorious Bettie Page" never once settles for simplistic heart-stringing or overbaked speech-making; it just tells the rather fascinating tale of a world-renowned sex-kitten, and it does so with copious doses of heart, wit, beauty, and most importantly, a palpable sense of respect. This movie is a testament to Gretchen Mol's talents in front of the camera, to Mary Harron's behind it, and to Bettie Page's legacy as one of the most popular ladies of all time.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12826&reviewer=128
originally posted: 09/14/05 12:52:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2006 Portland Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/06/08 Will Excellent 5 stars
8/09/07 John Aster Habig Great Bio Film I've always fantasized about BP but now she seems more human 4 stars
7/28/07 Charles Tatum The E True Hollywood Story was more informative 3 stars
4/17/07 David Pollastrini Gretchen Mol looked hot in this! 2 stars
1/10/07 Jeff Anderson Terrifically authentic & refreshingly sweet biopic. Mol is a stunning marvel as Bettie Page 5 stars
11/09/06 AnnieG Well-acted. Not much plot, but an enjoyable movie. 4 stars
10/15/06 Phil M. Aficionado Nothing special. Not bad but pretty shallow and cliched 3 stars
10/10/06 E.G. Great film 5 stars
10/10/06 bill C FANTASTIC! 5 stars
5/28/06 jcjs simply wonderful 5 stars
5/19/06 San Lamar sweet 5 stars
4/23/06 J. Silva Great, Sweet, Fun movie 5 stars
4/12/06 San Lamar A MUST SEE! 5 stars
9/28/05 E. Northam A strangely flat, unerotic film of a fascinating subject's naivete of kinky sexuality. 3 stars
9/16/05 bankrbear Wonderful cinematography, great performances 4 stars
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  14-Apr-2006 (R)
  DVD: 26-Sep-2006



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