In the last few years, the factoid of Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamar being connected to technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth has been circling the internet. It’s the kind of thing that seems so implausible that no one would bother to try to make it a hoax, so therefore perfectly believable. But beyond knowing her name and her face, I knew little else of her. I still haven’t seen any of the films in which she appeared.
Thankfully, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is an excellent corrective to all of that. The film takes the form of a survey of her life, from her first roles in Austrian films all the way up through the reclusive end of her life. The story is told with interviews and movie clips, as one expects from this sort of documentary, but there is a secret weapon.
The idea of Hedy Lamarr as inventor was brought into the public consciousness in 1990 by Forbes journalist Fleming Meeks. The film uses much of the original interview tapes that Meeks recorded with Lamarr, and gives valuable insight and perspective from the subject herself. It adds a dimension that is often missing from other films, as there is nothing she is promoting at that point in her life, no agenda she is trying to put forward. The Lamarr we hear on these tapes is charming, self-deprecating, and a little sad.
Bombshell does justice to trying to capture her whole life, as Lamarr was someone who kept needing to reinvent herself. She was a young actress embroiled in scandal for starring in Ekstase, a sexually explicit Austrian film. Then she was married to a munitions barron, who came with a castle and sales contracts with Mussolini and Hitler. Then her time in Hollywood, her desire to help the war effort with her inventions, several more marriages, plastic surgery, and reclusion.
If her life had a theme, it was the curse of being beautiful. She was always paranoid that she was only valued for her beauty and not her mind. That her marriages never worked because men didn’t know how to love her as a person, merely as an object. Let alone being a woman appreciated for her mind and ideas, rather than dismissed.
While the film isn’t groundbreaking in form, it doesn’t have to be in order to be a captivating viewing experience. Director Alexandra Dean does a fantastic job balancing all eras of her life, diving deep into her patent for frequency hopping, but not getting to dry for a non-engineer audience. This film is easy to recommend for anyone interested in any aspect of her story, and essential for those interested in the development of current technology or classic Hollywood.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.