Film: Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

November 28, 2017 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary

Synopsis: Third chronicle of Hedy Lamarr, the glamorous Hollywood actress now credited with inventing the precursor to modern Wifi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

Special Features:  n/a

 


 

Review:

With a third documentary on the famous Hollywood icon now in release, the question is What new information could there be, since Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004) and Hedy Lamarr: Secrets of a Hollywood Star (2006) both presented a wealth of information using very different approaches, and several published biographies and a play have offered various assessments and interpretations of the screen goddess now credited with inventing an encrypted system used in modern digital communications systems like Wifi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

Well, fans of the actress & inventor will be stunned to discover Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017) does contain more material, much of it coming from Lamarr herself, after former Forbes journalist Fleming Meeks found a trio of audio cassette tapes from a 1990 interview that sat behind a recycling receptacle in his office. (Although the cover of the issue is never seen in full, it’s not hard to realize it sports a feature piece on one Donald Trump.)

Alexandra Dean’s documentary is inarguably the more refined and traditionally structured of the three films, and aided with an obviously better budget, there was room to include a diversity of archival footage, but she also makes a point in avoiding duplication of material and not omitting some points raised in one doc but largely ignored in another.

Bombshell is propelled by Lamarr’s voice, and the then-76 year old actress talks almost exclusively about her sideline as inventor, having a trailer packed with gear to fiddle, read, and experiment between filming Hollywood classics. At her main studio MGM, like many actresses, Lamarr was indentured to a 7 year contract that allowed bigwig Louis B. Mayer to assign her to whatever role he felt she deserved, or as punishment for being too independent.

Her road from Austrian actress to Hollywood star is a major part of the narrative, but it gradually recedes as Dean gives room to the tapes that reveal a witty, charming, feisty woman who held her own and only looked ahead when misfortune, tragedy, and errors in judgment might have stopped a weaker figure cold.

More important, Dean addresses a series of questions stemming from archival material that similar to the audio tapes, fell below the radar: Did Lamarr appropriate ideas from ex-husband / Austrian munitions industrialist Fritz Mandl? Were there any scientists working for the U.S. Navy who could trace subsequent military communication innovations to frequency hopping, as patented by Lamarr and composer George Antheil during the  1940s? And what of Lamarr’s relationship with her adopted son Jimmy Lamarr Loder, and their 40+ year estrangement?

Bombshell updates and reconfirms Lamarr’s status and the statements by colleagues, peers, and friends, and kind of wraps up loose ends left dangling in the other two docs, including her final years and the studio’s role as drug pusher, offering ‘vitamin injections’ to stars to keep them going, and gradually getting them hooked and affecting their emotional and mental states.

It’s an engaging doc that draws from new interviews with friend Robert Osborne, historian Janine Basinger, director Peter Bogdanovich, comedian / filmmaker Mel Brooks (who referenced the actress in name in his wacky Blazing Saddles), and actress / director Diane Kruger, but perhaps the most surprising element at this stage isn’t that Lamarr was an inventor, but how little morsels of proof have existed for years – it just required proper research and some investigative journalism to tie her ‘secret life’ together, and validate the actress as an inventor.

Dean briefly excerpts material from the 1970 B&W interview between Lamarr and a German TV crew that’s heavily seen in the prior docs, and appropriately concludes with inspirational words from Lamarr herself, perhaps distilled into a simple suggestion: ‘No matter what disappointment comes your way, keep going, keep at it, and don’t give up.’

Distributed by Films We Like, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is currently screening at Toronto’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.

 

 

© 2017 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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