The other day I got to see the very enjoyable “The Notorious Bettie Page.” Actress Gretchen Mol looks stunningly like Bettie. The film accurately reproduces many of her famous pinup scenes, and does a good job of presenting the many contradictions in the life of this fascinating character.
Betty was raised as a conservative Christian girl in Tennessee. After marrying the wrong guy, she moved to New York to pursue an acting career. A black police officer convinces her to try her hand at modeling for glamor photos, and she quickly becomes a popular girlie model.
If you’ve ever seen a photo of the real Bettie Page, you were probably struck by her sunny smile and her complete and utter lack of self-consciousness, even while in the goofiest of poses.
Bettie meets Irving and Paula Klaw, who convince her to step into the world of fetish modelling. In the 1950s, most people were not aware of sex fetishes like bondage, leather, shoes, corsets, etc., etc. The attitude of the Klaws toward the fetishists who buy their photos is summed up in a comment by one of their models: “They’re not normal, but they’re very nice people.”
The actual niceness of their customers remains in question, but the Klaws themselves are a friendly bunch, and Bettie enjoys working with them.
The film is not a comedy, but there are some really hilarious moments, like the re-enactment of one of the Klaws’ motion pictures, entitled “Bettie’s Clown Dance.”
There’s a wonderful family picnic atmosphere when the Klaws go on a field trip to shoot their latest bondage movie.
When the Klaws run into some legal trouble with the U.S. Postal Service, Bettie vacations in Miami and poses with leopards for Bunny Yeager.
Throughout her many adventures, Bettie remains a Christian. There’s a great scene where Betty explains her religious beliefs to bondage photographer John Willie.
Unfortunately, the Klaws are driven out of business after an investigation by the U.S. Senate, and Bettie has a few unpleasant encounters with her sleazy fans. Her friend Maxie was right about one thing … they’re not normal.
Betty leaves the world of fetish modelling and becomes an active envangelist. While this new chapter of her life could have been easily played for laughs, the director Mary Harron chose wisely to treat the church scene with respect. Bettie emerges as a very innocent but strong character, who managed to walk through some very sleazy situations without being corrupted.