Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story Review

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
A documentary on the life of Hollywood Golden Age star Hedy Lamarr. Born in Vienna, she emigrated to the US after the failure of her first marriage, where she married five more times and invented a mainstay of modern communication. Never a dull moment.

by Helen O'Hara |
Published on
Release Date:

06 Mar 2018

Original Title:

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Hedy Lamarr lived enough life for ten biopics, which is a problem when you’re trying to fit her story into a single instalment. But director Alexandra Dean and her team manage a brisk but coherent overview of the star and inventor, thanks to a well-choreographed combination of archive footage, a lengthy audio recording of an interview Lamarr gave to Forbes magazine in the 1990s and interviews with fans, family and friends.

Even by the standards of the 1930s and ’40s, Lamarr’s life was dramatic. Born in Vienna to a science-minded Jewish family, she started nude modelling in her teens and then married an arms dealer who supplied fascists. She quickly became less enamoured of the man and his friends, and escaped, by night, with jewels sewn into the lining of her coat. She’d already caused a scandal with Austrian film Ecstasy, and was recruited for Hollywood with barely a word of English but a contract for $500 per week at MGM. There the studio system misused and neglected her, but she took the occasionally juicy role and ran a mile with it in films such as Algiers and Boom Town.

At times it feels like the film isn’t digging as deep as it might.

This story, however, is equally concerned with Lamarr’s scientific leanings. In the early years of World War II, fuelled by both patriotism and curiosity, she came up with a concept that would allow ships to guide their torpedoes by un-jammable radio. This “frequency hopping” patent was ignored in its time, but became the basis of much of the modern communications world, making Lamarr one of the more quietly influential inventors of the 20th century. She never saw a penny from it, somehow inevitably.

Dean and her team handily dismiss claims that Lamarr plagiarised the idea for her signal invention, but after that it’s back to racing through that extraordinary life story, via arrests and more marriages to life as a recluse in her later years. Yet none of those interviewed here seem completely comfortable in explaining what truly drove her, and none offer any significant criticism of her choices. Even the adoptive son she abandoned doesn’t seem to hold much rancour. Perhaps that’s simply to his credit, and more generally to hers, but at times it feels like the film isn’t digging as deep as it might to examine her restless search for something she didn’t have.

It’s all beautifully pieced together, but as it ‘frequency hops’ through her life, there’s little time to truly examine her legacy as a star, the effect of her marriages or the repercussions of hiding her religion after she emigrated to the US. Then again, perhaps one film could never cover all there is. At least this offers a solid grounding to discover more about an extraordinary woman, and a handy rejoinder to any claim that outrageous beauty and considerable brains can’t co-exist.

A life story packed with incident means that this sometimes rushes past events that would be formative for anyone else, but equally means that Lamarr’s life story is never, ever dull.
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