Nearly 50 years since her radiant smile and razor-sharp bangs last graced a girlie mag, Bettie Page still holds an inexorable mystique over popular culture. Her "naughty but nice" persona "? the Fifties pin"?up queen was as comfortable projecting sunny sexiness as she was posing in bondage garb "? is at the heart of what makes "The Notorious Bettie Page" both fascinating and a bit frustrating.
Gretchen Mol is terrific as the guileless model who bounced from rural Tennessee to New York City, where Bettie rose to prominence displaying her talents in front of the camera. Episodic in structure and full of kooky humor, the movie is rich with period detail and sumptuous cinematography.
Director Mary Harron lovingly satirizes sexual mores in the Eisenhower Age, but she is less assured dissecting what accounts for the Bettie phenomenon. Sometimes beauty really is only skin deep.