The Notorious Betty Page is one of those movies that really has all the potential in the world for gratuitous nudity and all-around lasciviousness. It would be so easy to go that route that it's all the more surprising that it doesn't. We follow the iconic Betty Page (Gretchen Mol) through her adolescence and early marriage in CliffsNotes style and it's clear that we are dealing with a young lady who is in possession of a substantial intelligence as well as beauty. She is also surprisingly naïve, despite the hints at child abuse and spousal abuse and the tastefully showed gang rape she is subjected to when she first tries to make it on her own.
Betty wants a career as a model/actress, but finds that there is a more lucrative way of making a living posing in “special clothing” and all the trappings of sado-masochism and fetish ware. At the time, having an interest in leather corsets and boots that go all the way to there was not considered fashionably chic, the way it is today. It was considered aberrant and deviant sexual behaviour to such a degree that it was illegal.
Betty is offered the job by Irving (Chris Bauer) and Paula Klaw (Lili Taylor) and she poses for a good many pictures and even some shorter films that feature fetish ware and various scenes that include spanking and bondage. What strikes me as interesting about this particular movie is that all this is portrayed as dressing up in good fun, kind of light-hearted and not particularly sinister. Things only get sinister when Betty is called to testify at a 1955 hearing investigating the negative effects of pornography on the youth of America. She never actually makes it into the courtroom, but that certainly means the innocence is gone.
Betty tries to get regular acting jobs as well, but she is too well-known, hence the "notorious" part, and finds herself drifting in Miami where she ambles into a church and is saved. That part is a little peculiar, but then, real life often is. Betty puts her modelling days behind her and goes on to work as a Christian missionary, and yes, there’s a joke in there somewhere.