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Hey, all you mugs in trench coats. Capone in Chicago here.

Sex sex sex. Now that I have your attention (I love that old trick), here are my thoughts on a film that is soon to be a favorite among strokers (and discriminating film goers) all over the planet, The Notorious Bettie Page.

Much like its real-life subject, The Notorious Bettie Page only wants us to remember the legendary '50s pin-up girl in her prime: the innocent smile that lights up every photo, the severe bangs of jet-black hair, the alabaster skin, and dangerous curves that seemed to make every stitch of clothing defy gravity. The film ignores as many pieces of Page1s very filmable biography as it includes. Her supposed time spent in a mental hospital after her pin-up years is not here; in fact, any trace of her life past her 30s is non-existent. And I believe that¹s exactly how Ms. Page wants it.

Director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) and co-writer Guinevere Turner (the two co-wrote the adaptation of American Psycho with Harron directing) scratches the surface of most of the major events in Page's early years but still manages to pull together a compelling and surprisingly moving work about a humble and sweet woman, constantly struggling to balance her two greatest passions: her Christian faith and her need to please everyone, including millions of American men who wanted to see her in various stages of undress.

No one on the planet could play Bettie like Gretchen Mol, whose days of virtual anonymity in small roles in even smaller films should be over right about now. I'll even go so far as to say that Mol is more beautiful and appealing than the real Bettie Page. She plays Bettie as the quintessential charming, polite, Southern girl from Nashville. She also looks remarkably fit and a tad sexy in the nude. Unfortunately Bettie¹s early years included an abusive family, possessive husband, and gang sexual assault. Bettie moved to New York to act (her scenes in acting class with a teacher played by Austin Pendleton are painful), but her good looks and nice figure got her more modeling jobs than stage work.

Bettie's progression from swimsuits and lingerie photos to nudity and bondage movies is shrewd and seductive. The always-great Lili Taylor plays Paula Klaw, who, with husband Irving (Chris Bauer), booked most of Bettie most famous work and oversaw some of her more bizarre fetish clients. The couple's relationship with Bettie is almost parental, and since the actress in Bettie always sees these twisted photo shoots as just dress up and play acting, she easily talks her way out of feeling guilty or dirty. Her process of justification is fascinating. When one photographer asks her to go from topless to fully nude for the first time, she shrugs and decides there's no real difference.

Unfortunately, Page's powers of reasoning weren't equaled by our lawmakers, as her bondage photos ended up being the centerpiece of a Senate subcommittee investigation into (of all things) the causes of juvenile delinquency, led by Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver (David Strathairn). Most of the film is told in flashback as Page sits in the hallway outside the hearing room waiting to be called in a below-the-knee skirt and white gloves. Harron wisely chooses to make her film black and white, with a few glimpses of color when Bettie vacations in Florida and poses for legendary pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager (Sarah Paulson). The look, music, and atmosphere The Notorious Bettie Page captures is both the ultra-hip and slightly seedy side of Bettie and her associates. But it¹s the film's final and simplest act that gets to the heart of the woman, as Bettie begins to feel the strong pull of religion and finds it impossible to be both Madonna and whore (in her mind and the mind of the church).

The fact that the film leaves you wanting to know more, I feel, is not a sign that it's incomplete but that it's so well made. Bettie's life is such a curiosity that a second movie could be made that picks up right where this one leaves off. I'd be just as interested to know about a woman who no longer takes her clothes off as I was to learn about one who did. Despite the legion of colorful characters, Gretchen Mol walks away with this film on her brassiere-strapped shoulders and wins our hearts in the process. If The Notorious Bettie Page had been released late last year, Mol would have been a lock for an Oscar nomination. Go to the film for the T&A, but stay for the gripping study of a divided woman who managed both sinner and saint quite nicely.


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