The Notorious Bettie Page (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes

In case you are not familiar with the woman who is the subject of this biopic, Bettie Page is one of the most famous pin-up models of the 50s, and probably the most famous bondage model of that era or any other. Her most distinctive personal characteristic was that that she was just so "aw, shucks" wholesome and square in a world that previously seemed to belong to perverts and creeps. She was like Annette Funicello in the Marquis de Sade's world. Her presence in that world served to humanize it, and to make it seem normal. As to whether that was a good thing, I defer to the teachings of my spiritual mentor, the esteemed Dalton, the lead character in Road House, who would have said, "Opinions vary." On the one hand, Bettie's presence in fetishland made a lot of people with harmless fetishes feel more comfortable with themselves, and that has to be a good thing. On the other hand, it made fetishland a popular amusement world accessible to more people, and that might or might not be good.

I compare Bettie's cultural influence to that of the new type of strip club. When I was a young man, strip clubs were grungy, forbidden places filled with sleazebag managers and low-rent customers. There was a good chance that any given customer would get ripped off in some way, and there was a good chance that any given night would feature some kind of mayhem. The dancers seemed to be mostly run-down old broads whose primary business was really selling themselves for cash or drugs. These days, the customers in "gentlemen's clubs" seem to be middle-management types in Brooks Brothers suits; many of the dancers are college kids; and the employees run the cash registers as transparently and honestly as the people at Safeway. If your daughter told you she was working in one of the new style clubs, you wouldn't celebrate, but you also wouldn't panic, because there would be no reason to assume that she was a junkie or a whore. Is the change good or bad? I guess it's probably a bit of both. I'm more likely to go into one of the new gentleman's clubs than I was to go into the old sleaze joints, and I think many guys feel the same way, so I guess it means more women people strip, and more men spend more time looking at strippers. I'll leave it to the sociologists to debate whether that is a positive or negative cultural development, but the point is that the business grew because it was turned into an unthreatening and pleasant experience. Bettie Page had the same impact on fetish photography. She made it seem downright wholesome fun, like your high school's spring musical.

This movie accomplishes the same thing. It makes everything that Bettie did professionally seem to be a pleasant experience for her which brought other people pleasure. Notorious Bettie will leave you with the feeling that you've been watching a Disney film, even though you've actually spent 90 minutes watching naked people and people in bondage gear. There is absolutely nothing unpleasant in the experience of watching The Notorious Bettie Page. It stays close to the facts as they are known, it reproduces some of her modeling experiences as accurately as possible, and it features a performance by Gretchen Mol that seems to evoke perfectly Bettie's innocent spirit and radiant smile. Unfortunately, there's nothing so very interesting about it either. The film doesn't evoke any great feeling of nostalgia for the era. It has no special point. It often drifts aimlessly and dispassionately through its paces. It does not criticize Betty, nor does it find fault with those in power who wanted to stop the circulation of bondage films. The tone is absolutely neutral, and the presentation is completely even-handed. The people who work in the films are just average joes and josephines carrying their lunch-pails to work and making a buck. The cops and senators who prosecuted them are pictured the same way - just doing their jobs, sincerely believing in what they say, really trying to do good for society. The film is refreshingly lacking in cynicism, but it leans so far in the opposite direction that it's also completely devoid of any point of view.

People say there is a fine line between wholesome and bland. Maybe there is no line at all, because I found this film to be both.

Gretchen Mol looks great both naked and dressed, however, and I have no problem watching her hang out for 90 minutes. Her nude scenes make this a favorite for our annual balloting for the best nude scene. By all means watch it for that reason alone, because she is that beautiful and that naked, and in good light. Just understand that there's nothing more to the film other than supplying a context, or maybe a pretext, for Gretchen's beautiful nudity.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.



  • Full-length commentary by Mol, the director, and the writer. (All women!)

  • A rare 2 1/2 minute color reel of the real Bettie Page stripping, and looking very beautiful and sweet.

  • A "making of" featurette (15 mion.)



  • Full frontal and rear nudity from Gretchen Mol.

  • One anonymous model topless.

  • Betty Page shows breasts and buns in the short feature.

Tuna's notes

The Notorious Bettie Page is an HBO biopic about the "greatest pin-up model of all time." The story begins with the Estes Kefauver smut hearings, where Irving Klaw was on trial for taking bondage photos, mostly of Bettie Page. The film hops around in time, and also in place, as it shows her childhood in a religious family in Tennessee, her modeling career in New York, and her excursions to Miami. Influential in her life were Irving Klaw and his sister Paula, and a famous photographer named Bunny Yaeger.

Bettie's early life could have been better, as her mother was overly strict and her father was abusive. Her first marriage ended badly with her husband also abusing her, so she set off to the Big Apple to get rich and famous in movies. What she found instead was that she was a natural model, and when she started working for the Klaws doing fetish material, she was making good money and becoming famous. The photo shoots portrayed in the film were based on real shoots from Betty Page's career.

Eventually, Bettie left modeling and rediscovered religion, and that is where the film ends, although Bettie is still alive now and doing well, after a rocky time in her 50s. She makes no apologies for her nude and fetish modeling, saying she is proud of those photos.

While presenting the career of Bettie Page, director Mary Harron was also trying to show sexuality in the 50s. I would say she accomplished both goals The attention to period detail is excellent, as is the costuming. The lion's share of the credit for the film's success, however, must go to Gretchen Mol. If you compare Mol's performance to the real Betty Page's short strip in the special features, you can see what a remarkable job she did in capturing Betty.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three and a quarter out of four stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4

  • British consensus:  about two and a half stars out of four. Mail 4/10, Telegraph 8/10, Independent 6/10, Guardian 6/10, Times 6/10, Sun 7/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 7/10, FT 4/10, BBC 2/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It grossed $1.4 million in arthouse distribution in the spring and early summer of 2006. (maximum: 73 theaters).

Miscellaneous ...


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop figures that the film is a C, "a perfectly competent and watchable film, if one that seems to have no point beyond showing Gretchen Mol's body. Not that any other point is necessary." Tuna graded it C+.

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