“Any girl can look glamorous, all she has to do is stand still and look stupid.”
And, so begins Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, an exploration of an actress whose beauty inspired Snow White and Catwoman whilst being remembered for her personal life as opposed to the technologies that she would develop and influences, inventions that gave us wifi, Bluetooth and GPS.
Bombshell is an eye-opening documentary of a powerful woman who wasn’t recognised for her mind, but for her looks and the life she lived. She was an icon, inventor and innovator, not just on screen, but as a scientist, a scientist in a time where it was felt that men led the world.
With interviews from friends, family, admirers and business associates, including never-before-heard audio recordings, Alexandra Dean directs and fantastic exploration into Lamarr’s life, giving her the voice that was denied her in life. We discover how she effortlessly influenced a generation, won hearts and how, despite all this, lived a simple, fun life with a close circle of friends. Her personality changed, not due to fame, but due to others, including Dr Feelgood (the notorious Max Jacobson, who would inject her with ‘vitamin elixirs’ or methamphetamine), the directors who abused their power and the men who took advantage of their trophy. Her life declined in line with her career and it’s disappointing to see the story play out in this way.
A combination of archive footage and testimony from those who knew her, and experts in her work, sets the documentary perfectly in its context, taking us through her life, it’s highs and the lows, and revealing a world with expectations of women that were at odds with Lamarr’s genius.
Lamarr is, however, a headstrong woman who pursued success, and success she achieved. She would have a twenty-eight year film career that caused scandal but won her legions of fans around the world. Fans that included the likes of Mel Brooks, but also included lovers like JFK and Spencer Tracy. Six marriages, wealth and fame, she courted controversy with her affairs, her lifestyle and her reputation, but she was, at heart, much deeper than the trophy that many saw. “She never knew whether people were interested in her or the fantasy of her,” one of her friends reflects, and we realise how, despite her popularity, lonely she really was.
After a solid days work, and we get the impression that she worked very hard and was made to work very hard, Lamarr would turn to inventing, creating communications technology that would revolutionise the world (and torpedo technology, as she lived through World War II) and earn millions for the companies that would exploit her creations but leave Lamarr in near poverty before her death in 2000.
For every great thing that Lamarr achieved, she had her critics and these people were vocal, overshadow the much more mild-mannered Lamarr. Only through this story does the truth really come out, often in Lamarr’s own words, but also from her family and friends. It’s tragic that, to many, it was felt that a woman as beautiful as she wouldn’t have the ideas that she had, let alone the ability to execute them.
A bittersweet story of the brains behind the beauty, and the untapped intelligence that burned behind the smouldering looks, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is a story that deserves to be told and, more importantly, deserves to be seen and spoken about openly. With much being made of equality for women in Hollywood, this film should be a talking point.
Dir: Alexandra Dean
Scr: Alexandra Dean
Country: United States
Out now on DVD and Digital Download