Film review, by Jason Day, of Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, the documentary about the Hollywood film star whose world-changing inventions have been hitherto unrecognised.
This documentary uses previously unseen photos, archive film footage and audio recollections from Hedy Lamar to build a new picture of a woman remembered chiefly for her beauty and accomplishments as a film actress. Less remembered is her ‘other’ self and careers as a self-taught physics genius and inventor. Interviews with her peers, friends and three children give detail about this and her later life as a recluse.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
Any woman can look glamorous. All she has to do is sit still and look stupid.
Hedy Lamarr started the craze for brunette film stars parting their hair in the middle.
This is just one of the insightful nuggets revealed in this consistently fascinating and illuminating documentary, revelations that make any character she played pale into insignificance.
Nude modelling that led to her starring in an early soft-core porn movie, she married her first (of six) husbands as a teenager and had to drug her maid and dress up as her for a night-time bike-flight to escape his jealous rages. All of this and she hadn’t even got to the States.
Lamarr was – arguably – the most beautiful actress in Hollywood during her brief spell as a star during the late 30’s and early 40’s, but she never really caught on as an actress despite a few hits.
Fittingly, she was given the same surname as deceased silent movie star Barbara, called ‘the girl who was too beautiful’ back in the day.
Barbara probably didn’t care as much for the physics behind radio waves than her later namesake, but both actresses suffered in different ways from not being taken seriously.
Hedy notes in archive audio interviews here that she always found fixing and inventing things easy, so just being someone known for looking very good was never going to make her happy in Hollywood.
After some fairly successful movies in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s her interest in movie-making began to dwindle and she concentrated on co-developing a WWII radio guidance system that used ‘spread spectrum’ and ‘frequency hopping’ (i.e. radio signals hopped between different frequencies, but the messages were not lost and were received in one clear piece) to avoid jamming by Axis powers.
Although not used by the US government until long after the war, the technology Lamarr co-created is the foundation all modern telecommunications (Bluetooth, mobile phones, home Wi-Fi). She never renewed the original patent and didn’t receive a penny in royalties (rumoured to be in the hundreds of millions).
This documentary from writer/producer/director Alexandra Dean is exhaustively researched and thankfully doesn’t dwell on the Hollywood bit of Lamarr’s career and life. Dean employs a mix of animation, newspaper clippings and real-life interviews to show us what lay behind Lamarr’s stunning facade.
The later footage of an elderly woman disfigured by years of plastic surgery is a step too far into unnecessary intrusiveness. Dean’s interviewees tell us throughout how intelligent the subject was and that she should be remembered for her brains, but then whips in a few shots of that famous beauty, now a ruin of its former self. This needles the woman from beyond the grave.
It verges on the cruel but does not detract from the image that Lamarr was beauty and brains – if given the chance, she could have conquered the world.
Cast & credits
Director: Alexandra Dean. 1hr 28mins/88mins. Reframed Pictures. (12a)
Producers: Alexandra Dean, Katherine Drew, Adam Haggiag.
Writer: Alexandra Dean.
Camera: Buddy Squires.
Music: Jeremy Bullock, Keegan DeWitt.
Hedy Lamarr, Jimmy Loder, Anthony Loder, Denise Loder-DeLuca, Diane Kruger, Mel Brooks.