Prior to watching Bombshell, I had never heard of Hedy Lamarr. This is shameful for a film critic and feminist to confess, considering the sumptuous life-story that the actor/inventor always wanted to tell. But first-time documentary filmmaker Alexandra Dean has set me right, sympathetically revealing the brains behind the beauty.
Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Kiesler) was a Hollywood actor from Austria, who worked mainly for Louis B. Mayer at MGM between the ‘30s and ‘50s. She was known for her good looks and as a potent sex symbol, whose fame began in 1933 after the release of the notorious Austrian film Ecstasy. The movie was made famous (or infamous) by its nudity, and its being one of the first cinematic portrayals of a female orgasm. But, as Dean is sure to drum into our unenlightened minds, Lamarr was so much more than a pretty airhead.
RELATED: Mary Magdalene Review
From an early age, she loved designing and inventing things. And when she fled Austria to escape the Nazis (her Jewish heritage being a likely target), she was determined to help the American war effort through one of her inventions. With avant-garde composer George Antheil, she developed designs for a “frequency-hopping” device to assist naval submarines in guiding their torpedoes. It was ignored at the time, but some claim it was implemented during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it’s now used in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology. This lack of acknowledgement for her invention builds through the film, growing into a brilliantly feministic tale of looks vs everything underneath. It’s this side that Dean is set on exploring.
The film takes us through her exceedingly fruitful and disappointing life – full of failures, marriages, scandal, addiction, and plastic surgery. Dean glosses over some intensely exciting parts, like when Lamarr escapes Austria by dressing as a maid and stealing expensive jewels in order to reach London. Given the film’s short runtime, I doubt Dean would’ve regretted extending these stories to show their respective weights. However, since these periods of thrill and drama are so numerous, the film might well have been unwatchably long. With its wonderfully-sketched animations, the film is an entertaining 90 minutes.
The interviews range from famous people in the biz, like Mel Brooks and Diane Krueger, to Lamarr’s children and grandchildren, to film historians and Google animators. The insights they provide are slightly dubious, considering their lack of connection to the real Hedy Lamarr (if, indeed, there was such a thing). But this is countered by a 1990 taped-interview with Lamarr conducted by Fleming Meeks for Forbes Magazine (thought lost), which the film threads much of its narrative around. It provides a unique and detailed account of her life, acting as the autobiography she always wanted to write.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is a fun and heart-breaking story behind one of the most famous faces in classical Hollywood. It’s released at an opportune time, given the current – and, hopefully, lasting – scrutiny against the mistreatment of women in the film industry. The film reaffirms how well times have changed (with more still to do), showing the bad old days when attractive female actors were fantasized with no bras or brains. Lamarr was determined to prove them wrong, and Dean fulfills her delayed legacy.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is released in the UK on 9th March 2018