Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story (TV Movie 1981) Poster

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And the Special Award for "least convincing impersonation of a real individual" goes to.....
JamesHitchcock7 November 2010
Dorothy Stratten (nee Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten) was a working-class girl from Vancouver, British Columbia who became a model and, at the age of nineteen, was chosen as the Playboy Playmate of the Month for August 1979. She became Playmate of the Year the following year. Most Playmates tend to disappear from sight after their month in the spotlight, but Dorothy was widely regarded as being far more than just a pretty face. She was also regarded as a promising up-and-coming actress and had appeared in three films when, in August 1980, she was murdered by her estranged husband Paul Snider who was jealous of her relationship with the film director Peter Bogdanovich. (Snider committed suicide immediately after killing Dorothy).

The television movie "Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story" was one of two films from the early eighties about Dorothy's life, the other being the feature film "Star 80" from two years later. (It is a long time since I saw "Star 80", so I will not attempt a comparison of the merits of the two films). "Death of a Centerfold", as often happens with TV movies based on real events, appears to have been rushed quickly out to take advantage of the publicity resulting from the case. It changes some of the details of the case. The actual killing is not shown directly, presumably out of respect for the feelings of Dorothy's family and friends. Dorothy's parents are not mentioned; in the early scenes she is shown living with an aunt. The actor playing Paul Snider, Bruce Weitz, is considerably older than the real Snider, who was still in his twenties when he died. Bogdanovich is referred to in the film, possibly for legal reasons, as "David Palmer".

The leading role is played here by Jamie Lee Curtis, which has always struck me as miscasting, given that she does not bear the slightest resemblance to Dorothy Stratten. (Mariel Hemingway, who was to play her in "Star 80", resembles her much more closely). If they ever institute a special Razzie for "least convincing impersonation of a real individual" they should name it the Jamie Lee Curtis Award. Indeed, Jamie Lee does not really look like the sort of girl who gets chosen as a "Playboy" playmate. That does not mean that she is unattractive; indeed, after she appeared scantily dressed in a number of her films, especially "Perfect", she became something of a sex symbol. With her slim figure, sharply defined features and slightly androgynous looks, however, she has never been the "Playboy" type; Hugh Hefner's tastes have always run towards beauty of the voluptuous, the baby-faced and the unambiguously feminine variety- the sort of beauty, in fact, which Dorothy Stratten possessed in spades.

Quite apart from her looks, Jamie Lee was never very convincing as a naive, innocent and confused young girl. Bruce Weitz was able to convey the villainous side of Snider's nature, but he never really suggested that there might be any other side. The real Snider must have possessed a certain plausible charm in order to persuade a gullible young woman to fall in love with him, but we do not see anything of this in the film.

"Death of a Centerfold" is in many ways a typical "true story" TV movie, a plain, straightforward narrative without too much in the way of cinematic tricks and trying to tell a shocking story without actually upsetting anyone. Apart from the obvious villain Snider everyone comes out smelling of roses; there is nothing here that might provoke a libel suit and no attempt to explore the potentially interesting question of whether Hefner and "Palmer" were in fact exploiting Dorothy as much as Snider was. 5/10
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TV Tale of Tragedy -
Noirdame797 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I have to say that this version is interesting, with the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis (the "Scream Queen"), one of my favorite actresses as Dorothy, although she doesn't bear much of a resemblance. Although I think that Bob Fosse's "STAR 80" is better, this version has something good going for it - the inner strength that Dorothy discovers, but she is still unable to save herself. (Maybe the fact that a woman directed it had some influence). Bruce Weitz is overbearing as Snider, but he seems a bit too old. Remember, Paul Snider was 29 when he died. This film's version of events leading up to the crime doesn't quite feel right, but no matter. It's a cut above a lot of other TV movies. But if you want something closer to the real story, watch "STAR 80". This one will do, though.
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Not too shabby
DaCritic-217 October 2000
Warning: Spoilers
This was not only the first I'd heard about the whole Dorothy Stratten story (I was a young teen when this movie first came out), and it was also the first time I'd seen Jamie Lee Curtis in any movie (somehow I avoided seeing "Hallowe'en" until the late 'Eighties).

It's a biopic about Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten, from her life in small town ... Washington? Oregon? ... to her rise to fame as a nude model, and her turbulent relationship with her psychotic husband. They divorced, she tried to keep away from him; her husband finally killed her and committed suicide.

I seem to remember that the movie was very engaging; maybe it's just that I thought JLC was a hottie. Anyway, I thought it was really well-acted and pretty straightforward; looking back on it now, I can see that it wasn't too horribly sensationalized, an aspect of another biopic of her ("Star 80") that really turned me off.
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A pretty good TV movie that's predictable and ends in sorrow and sadness.
blanbrn29 December 2015
I remember years ago one day at my grandmother's and aunts house watching this TV movie one day on a snow day being off from school I believe many many years ago on TBS, and I just recently watched it again on DVD and it's a pretty good TV movie. Made in 1981 it tells the rise and fall of the late 1970's early 1980's model turned playmate Dorothy Stratten and it's rightfully called "Death of a Centerfold" The Stratten Story as this young woman would meet a violent end. The film starts in Victoria British Columbia with a young Dorothy Stratten(in a young and sexy performance from Jamie Lee Curtis)who works in a local ice creme shop and lives with her aunt. And all of a sudden it all changes for her when one day a con man and wheel dealer named Paul Snider enters the shop and offers her a deal to model. And this would put Dorothy on a path of fame and fortune out to L.A. for a rich life to live and later Stratten becomes "Playboy's Playmate of the Month". Only sadly all of this is taken away in a fit of brutal jealous rage from Paul as even his sense of obligation of marrying Dorothy was not enough for Paul. As if Paul(Bruce Weitz) couldn't have her and enjoy Dorothy's success then nobody else could either! Overall this TV film is a tragedy of a life cut short showing that fame can come with a price.
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esther-meeks12 January 2019
Why did they change Bogdonavitch to someone named David Palmer? This version made little sense. Star 80 is the far better film.
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Decent Made-for-TV Flick
Michael_Elliott6 March 2015
Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story (1981)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

Decent made-for-TV drama shows Dorothy Stratten (Jamie Lee Curtis) going from a small town waitress to the Playmate of the Year. Stratten, a natural beauty, begins her career thanks in large part to a con man (Bruce Weitz) that she meets. He manages to get her into the pages of Playboy and soon he becomes more and more possessive of the young woman. Feeling she owes him something, Dorothy agrees to marry him but things take a turn for the worse.

DEATH OF A CENTERFOLD certainly isn't an award-winner as it's held up by a lot of things that usually hold these types of movies back. If you're unfamiliar with the story then this here is a decent introduction to the events but there's no question that more could have been done with Stratten's story.

I think the strongest thing going for the film are some of the performances with Weitz easily stealing the picture as the controlling husband. I really thought the actor nailed every aspect of the role from the more charming moments to the ones where he slowly begins to break in regards to how much madness he can present. There are a few scenes where you pretty much see him go from hot to cool back to hot within the matter of seconds and I thought the actor pulled it off extremely well. Robert Reed also stands out in his role as a producer who takes Stratten in towards the end of her life. Mitchell Ryan is also good in his role as Hugh Hefner. As for Curtis, I thought she wasn't that strong in the lead but she manages to have a few nice moments including the final portion of the film. I thought she handled the finale quite well.

Most of the flaws are typical of this type of made-for-TV movie. There's certainly no great demand for high-art so you can't expect too much drama or well-made moments. Instead of a complete story we're pretty much given the highlights of the story and of course there are the over-dramatic moments of Stratten's aunt "fearing" for the safety of her. Another weak aspect is that the direction really just doesn't stand out or create anything that we haven't seen before. Even by 1981 the type of film showing women abused were pretty much done to death and this one here doesn't do anything fresh or original with it.

DEATH OF A CENTERFOLD pretty much set out to be the first movie on the market dealing with a subject that made a lot of headlines. This film was on television barely a year after Stratten was murdered so the producers at least got the film noticed while the headlines were still hot. With that said, there's certainly nothing awful about the film even though it falls well short of being anything special.
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