Alexandra Dean (director)
09 March 2018 (released)
09 March 2018
There’s something of a parallel between the late Sir Roger Bannister and Hedy Lamarr. Bannister achieved fame for the sub four-minute mile, though he was more personally fulfilled by his achievements in neurology. Similarly, Lamarr was as an international movie star though developing ideas and inventing really were her lifelong passions.
Noting during her work as a journalist that there were precious few role models for women in science, director Alexandra Dean came across Hedy Lamarr’s biography, and found one. But soon hit a problem in that apart from her films there was a paucity of material from Lamarr herself. Luckily Dean came across four tapes with contained an audio interview with the actress. Lucid and frank about her career and life, Lamarr effectively became both narrator and contributor to Bombshell and so is the backbone of this wittily titled film.
Hedwig Eva Kiesler arrived in the USA from 1930s Austria. Born into a wealthy Jewish Viennese family just as the Nazis were starting to take hold, the move was hardly voluntary. She’d made a few films, but it was her rare beauty that attracted movie mogul Louis B. Mayer. He in turn tied her to a long, exploitative contract.
Now called Hedy Lamarr the studio system set about getting its money’s worth, and though successful she was at times treated merely as a bauble. That’s not to say she didn’t challenge the system, producing two films of her own, which was rare for a woman to do at that time
Oddly enough the studio system enabled her to meet tycoon and director Howard Hughes whom she assisted, when he was having some technical problems. He in turn set up a lab so that she could pursue her interest in inventing. Though Lamarr had no professional qualifications she had a vivid imagination that could be turned to almost anything coming up with a stream of ideas that are wonderfully illustrated by line animations.
It was during World War two that she, aided by composer George Antheil, developed a frequency hopping system for torpedoes that was initially rejected by the military. The idea was patented but a cruel combination of narrow-mindedness, manipulation and ignorance deprived them of credit and an income. Which was something that was to become a problem as despite the huge hit of Samson and Delilah in 1949, her film career was waning as was her earning power.
The film doesn’t gloss over any aspects of her life and through a deft mixture of interviewees from Hollywood (a wickedly funny Mel Brooks) her family, friends, scientists and the military, Dean carefully weaves through Lamarr’s films, inventions and personal life. The latter a bizarre mess of six marriages, estranged son, shop-lifting, and disastrous facial plastic surgery; the photos of which are unforgiving and very, very sad.
The film clearly has a point to make but it’s not suffocating; it’s illuminating and entertaining, a combination no stranger than beauty and intelligence.