The Notorious Pagan Jones is the latest book from Nina Berry and features an fallen teen actress trying to recover from the death of her family. Set in 1960, Nina Berry created a list of movies to watch after reading The Notorious Pagan Jones.
Pagan Jones is a teenage movie star in 1960 until one accident kills her entire family and she becomes the notorious Pagan Jones. Sent to reform school Pagan is no longer living the life of a beloved actress but a delinquent who can not be trusted. All that changes when Pagan’s old agent arrives at the school with a mysterious studio executive in tow. They offer Pagan the chance to act again but it all seems a little too good to be true.
Nina Berry created a list of movies from the late ’50s and early ’60s to set the tone for The Notorious Pagan Jones. Each movie picked relates to the novel in some way and will add layers to the book by giving you insight to the inspiration behind some of the characters and themes of the book.
13 movies to watch after you read The Notorious Pagan Jones by Nina Berry
When you write a book about a teenage movie star set in 1961, you get to do the best kind of research – watching movies! I had fun finding and watching these movies, and more, while I was writing. If you’re into the cinema or culture of the late fifties/early sixties, the Cold War, or spy stories, these movies are just your style.
One, Two, Three (1961)
While working on the plot for the book, I needed a cover story to get Pagan to Berlin. Then I found that an American movie, One, Two, Three, was actually being shot in West Berlin when the Wall went up in August 1961. So Pagan gets cast in a movie much like this satire on Cold War relations by brilliant director Billy Wilder. Pagan’s movie is different in many ways, but I did make my fictional director a lot like Billy Wilder, and Pagan’s role is bears some similarity to that played by Pamela Tiffen (the brunette in the fur coat) in this movie. Be sure to watch for the very cool footage of East and West Berlin, which Wilder shot just days before the Wall went up.
The Parent Trap (1961)
While doing research on child actresses, I remembered this Disney gem starring Hayley Mills, and she immediately became a major inspiration for the character of Pagan. The movie is a classic, and Mills gives a tour de force performance. This movie is exactly the type of film I envisioned being a big part of Pagan’s early career, before her mother died and she started drinking.
And here’s an example of the kind of movie Pagan made after her mother died – fluffy, dated, but still fun to watch. I titled Pagan’s surfer girl film, Beach Bound Beverly, and decided it was a rip-off of Gidget. Star Sandra Dee was one of the child stars I researched to create the character of Pagan, and here she portrays the quintessential sweet good girl you see in a lot of 1950s movies – a mask Pagan uses to hide the darker aspects of her true character.
From Russia With Love (1963)
I first conceived of Pagan Jones as a teenage girl James Bond. Her adventures didn’t turn out to be so over-the-top, but Ian Fleming’s spy’s influence cannot be denied. Many consider Russia to be the best Bond film. Shot in 1963, the clothes, cars, and culture you see in it are all very close to those of Pagan’s time. I particularly like its use of real locations in Istanbul for many of its sequences. The soundtrack is perfect for listening to while you’re writing an espionage thriller too. Sad trivia: this was the last film John F. Kennedy watched at the White House before he was assassinated.
The Moon-Spinners (1964)
When I was a teenager I gobbled up all of Mary Stewart’s suspense novels, including The Moon-Spinners. Each book was about an intrepid young woman finding romance and intrigue in a fascinating foreign location, which wouldn’t be a bad description of The Notorious Pagan Jones. Disney made a movie of The Moon-Spinners in 1964 with the wonderful Hayley Mills. I still prefer the book, but the film is a lot of fun. I named one of the movies Pagan in backlist after another Mary Stewart novel, My Brother Michael. I wish someone would make that movie!
Dance clip of “Rip It Up” by Bill Haley and the Comets from Don’t Knock the Rock (1956)
This fabulous, energetic clip from the otherwise uninteresting Don’t Knock the Rock will give you a great idea of the kind of dancing Pagan and Thomas do up on the roof of the Berlin Hilton the night they go out together. These kids are professional dancers pretending to be ordinary teens, but it’s easy to imagine Pagan and Thomas doing a slightly less flashy version of the dance. It might even make you want to take swing dancing lessons, since it’s pretty much the most fun you can have with a partner with your clothes on.
Twist Around the Clock (1961)
To contrast with the Lindy Hop partner-style dancing in Don’t Knock the Rock, check out the biggest dance craze from Pagan’s era, the Twist, starring in its own movie in 1961, Twist Around the Clock. The movie is a cheap quickie filled with Twist knock-off songs, but it’s capitalizing on a trend that changed rock and roll dancing forever. After the twist, kids no longer danced hand in hand with their partner. Each person was free to do their own dance. You could even dance alone without embarrassment or in a huge group together, they way the stars of the movie do at the beginning of this clip. Many, like Pagan, found it liberating. The craze continued long enough for another Twist movie, Don’t Knock the Twist, to come out two years later.
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
In Pagan’s day, “good” girls didn’t. But the edges of that stereotype were starting to fray, and you can see that in this movie, Elia Kazan’s poignant take on teenage sexual repression and neurosis. It may seem overwrought to us today, but it was considered daring and controversial when it premiered in 1961. It capture the intensity of young love and lust in a way that hadn’t been seen before in a mainstream film. Even though it takes place in the twenties, its condemnation of labeling girls “good” and “bad” based on their sexual activity was relevant in 1961 and still rings true today. The two gorgeous stars, Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, had an affair during the shoot, and their chemistry on screen shines through.
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
The specter of World War II and the Holocaust haunts both East and West Berlin throughout The Notorious Pagan Jones. You can get a clear look at the devastating, complicated effects of the Holocaust in this award-winning 1961 movie by Stanley Kramer about Germans on trial for war crimes. Cold War values and justice clash, and it’s up to the clear-eyed Spencer Tracy to decide what’s right. The film is also notable because it was one of the first to show uncensored footage of the concentration camps at the end of the war.
Tiger Bay (1959)
This acclaimed, low-budget movie, starring British actor John Mills with his daughter Hayley co-starring, was the inspiration for Pagan’s one prestige film, Leopard Bay. It’s a clear step toward Britain’s more realistic New Wave cinema, seen in movies like A Taste of Honey. You can watch Tiger Bay in its entirety on Youtube, but check out this New York Times review from 1959 which hails Hayley Mills’ performance, exactly as I imagine Pagan’s was hailed.
The Apartment (1960)
You can see stills of Billy Wilder, who inspired the character of Bennie Wexler, in this trailer for the movie that won him a Best Director statue. The film won Best Picture, and it, even more than One, Two, Three, shows you Wilder’s expert mix of drama and comedy, heart and hilarity. The film has a very dark take on American attitudes toward women and office politics, even as it makes you laugh. A true classic.
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1965)
For a realistic take on spying, watch this brilliant, cold, brutal film. This espionage tale is the anti-James Bond. Le Carré replaces Ian Fleming’s action scenes and cartoonishly evil villains with subtle maneuvers and betrayal in a world of bewildering moral complexity. This film also contains one of the great twists in spy literature and film. Bonus points for what may be Richard Burton’s best performance and an excellent depiction of East and West Berlin and the Wall that lies between them.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
No tour of movies depicting the world of 1961 would be complete without this popular fairy tale starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. Pagan’s personal style is very much like Audrey’s character’s in this film. Watching it will give you an idea of the clothes, parties, manners, and racism of the times, all in one pretty package. I will forever love Holly Golightly and Cat, but the offensive depiction of their Japanese neighbor (played by the decidedly non-Asian Mickey Rooney) is a useful reminder that under the shiny surface of this era lurked a lot of bigotry, something that tarnishes Pagan’s family history as well.