Hedy Lamarr (nee Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler) was considered by many, during Hollywood’s heyday in the 1930s and 40s, as the most beautiful woman in the world. But, few know that she was also an inventor of some achievement. The life of this enigmatic actress is told in “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story.”
First-time documentary filmmaker Alexandra Dean explores the life, both professionally and privately, of an unwilling star (she questioned why her fans would even want her autograph) and unrequited inventor. Her first fame came in the 1933 Czech film “Ecstasy,” where she performed in the nude – the highly controversial film was denounced by the Pope, banned by Hitler in Germany and condemned by the American Catholic Legion of Decency.
After stealing out of Nazi Germany to Paris (some say, mysteriously), she came to the attention of uber-producer Louis B. Mayer, who brought her to America, Hollywood and stardom. And, she did have a successful career with such films as “Algiers (1938),” “Comrade X (1940)” and “Samson and Delilah (1949)” – Lamarr’s only Oscar nomination. She also had six failed marriages bore three children.
The film delves into her film career and turbulent private life in some detail. But it also gives equal shrift to her inventive genius. A consummate tinkerer since a child, her inquisitive, intelligent mind was inspired by the outbreak of World War II and a problem with radio-controlled torpedoes. It seems that the enemy, the Nazis, had figured out how to jam the signal controlling those torpedoes, rendering them useless.
Lamarr thought of a way to create a frequency-hopping signal that could not be jammed. She worked with composer and fellow-inventor George Antheil to develop the device and they received a US patent. Although the US Navy did not immediately adopt the concept of spread spectrum technology, it later was adopted by the military and used in the development of GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Alexandra Dean supplements the large archive of material, mostly from Lamarr’s films, with a lost 1990 interview with the actress as she tells her life’s story from her own unique point of view. It is a great look into the bad and the beautiful of the old Hollywood studio system through her eyes. But, her hidden hoped-for career as an inventor who wanted to help the war effort and her considerable accomplishments are also brought to light. I give it a B-.
Laura also gives "Bombshell" a B-.
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