BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY is a beautifully put together concise documentary about a one-time Hollywood star who felt trapped by her beauty and her reputation and under-appreciated for her intellect.
Hedy was born in 1914 in Vienna to a middle-class Jewish family, with a beloved father who encouraged her interest in mechanics and invention. As a teenager she became a beauty, and in decadent pre-anschluss Vienna, she felt free enough to express that in nude photos and a notorious film called Ecstasy, in which she appeared nude and faked an orgasm on screen. All this before she turned twenty. She marries a rich industrialist who happens to be supplying the Nazis with munitions, becomes a bored trophy wife, and escapes to England then America, where she enters another kind of prison, on a contract with Louis B Mayer. He categorises her according to her reputation for Ecstasy, giving her bad parts that sell her looks but not her acting skills. Despite this she has a few hits, and is widely lauded as a beauty, but it never quite sticks. She makes a bad second marriage to a philandering screenwriter - the second of many. And by the 1950s is washed up, a single mother, taking bad parts, addicting to the pills MGM gave her to keep her on the treadmill in her popular years. The worst part is that while she spent her entire life trying to be valued for her brains, not her beauty, she too gave into that metric as measure of her worth, indulging in more and more extreme plastic surgery until the results forced her to become a recluse, dying alone, being buried in an unmarked grave in her beloved Vienna.
And so the brains. Hedy had no higher education but had a fascination with science and engineering and a bold willingness to solve problems. During World War Two, she wanted to help the Allies who suffering horrific losses in the Battle of the Atlantic. And so, with musician George Antheil, she invented a system of radio Frequency Hopping that would allow Allied boats to communicate with torpedoes securely, and to evade German U-boats jamming their communications. It is appalling that such a revolutionary idea would be filed away by the US Navy. It's even more appalling that she was condescendingly told to be a good pretty little actress and to sell war bonds by auctioning off kisses. And the final insult was that her patent was seized by the US government because she was an "alien" rather than a patriot, and exploited for military and commercial gain without her seeing a dime. To be clear, the consequences of her invention were immense - it's the concept behind the secure communications in wi-fi and bluetooth!
There are so many ideas and emotions in this short film that it takes some time to really settle and unpack it all - what it means to have your patriotism questioned as an immigrant - the difficulty of being taken seriously as woman in Hollywood - the emotional damage of a persona - drug abuse. That alone would make it worth watching, apart from the technical skill of assembling some very high quality vintage footage.
BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY has a running time of 88 minutes. The film is rated 12A for modest sex references and nudity. The film was released in the USA and Spain last year and was released in the UK this weekend in cinemas and on demand. It will be released in Germany on March 22nd.