What Bettie Page, famous for pin-up posing, experienced in childhood and adolescence is far worse than what she herself did for the porn business in the Fifties.  As a child she was sexually abused by her father, which is almost ignored by Mary Harron’s film The Notorious Bettie Page (2005), and as an adolescent she was gang raped.  She went on to study acting and to be photographed for erotic pictures, even S&M stock.  Congressional hearings were held to determine if the stuff was socially damaging.  Bettie felt conflicted.  All this is in Harron’s dramatized film.

For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins (Amos 5:12).  This is in the picture too.  As a child Bettie goes to church; as an adult she accepts the concept of sin and converts to Christianity.  She believes God wants her to stop posing, but does not regard posing as a bad and shameful thing.  Quite naive, this Bettie Page; but she does convert, as did the real Bettie in 1959.

Not a terribly important film, Bettie is nevertheless beautifully made and straightforward.  The time is the Fifties:  at first Harron fashions the nice illusion that the movie itself is a Fifties flick.  Before long, however, the adults-only material intrudes, as does color (though only when appropriate).  Less lovely than the real Bettie, Gretchen Mol is nonetheless positively fine at portraying Page’s simplicity, cheerfulness, vulnerability, sex appeal, and religious awakening.

Cover of "The Notorious Bettie Page"

Cover of The Notorious Bettie Page