BOMBSHELL: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Director: Alexandra Dean
Screenwriter: Alexandra Dean
Cast: Anthony Loder, Mel Brooks, Jennifer Hom, Wendy Colton, Fleming Meeks, Peter Bogdanovich, Diane Kruger, Michael Tilson Thomas
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 12/13/17
Opens: November 24, 2017
How would you feel if you invented something worth thirty billion dollars, that’s $30,000,000,000, and you retired with nothing more than $300/month in social security? What kind of person would not be outraged, suing everyone in sight? The invention, which military people are familiar with, is frequency-hopping, a technique that the U.S. used in World War 2 to alter the direction of torpedoes, thereby frustrating German ships which had been fast enough to race past oncoming torpedoes. Why is it worth that much today? This military invention has been the basis of, get this, wi-fi, GPS, cellphones and satellites—all the things that make the lives of young people worthwhile. So, who is this unfortunate man—Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Samuel F.B. Morse? No: it was a woman, a beautiful woman, one whom you might never expect to be the inventor because…she was perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world—and some people’s first impression when they see such ravishing beauty is…not much in the brain department. Give up? Oh, you know the answer, because it’s in the title of this documentary.
Alexandra Dean, who wrote and directs “Bombshell” in her debut as feature film director, focuses on what is ultimately a sad story. Besides being the most beautiful actress in Hollywood who first made her name in the 1933 movie “Ecstasy” where she indulged in a nude scene with a simulated orgasm, Hedy Lamarr, aka Hedy Kiesler, had such a creative mind that she could have served the Nazi war effort. The trouble is that since she was Jewish, her movie was banned in Germany and she had to leave for England and then America. Though the doc does not speculate on what I consider an important point, if Hitler did not have a psychotic aversion to Jews and did not make war on them, he could have profited from the likes of Einstein, Freud and…Hedy Lamarr, and horrible enough to think, he could have won the war.
The doc has the usual talking heads, but thankfully is adorned with clips (not enough) from some of her movied and, yes, the skinny-dipping scene and the orgasm are on display from “Ecstasy.” When you watch scenes of Hedy Lamarr with Clark Gable and Charles Boyer, you might wax nostalgic for the easy chemistry that the world’s most beautiful woman had with some of Tinseltown’s handsomest men.
Nothing remains the same, as actresses who have tried plastic surgery, or not, find out. Once the allure of sex wears off, the majority are cast away unless they are lucky enough to perform in the roles of grandmas or for commercials for Depends. Looking back, though, you may consider her most popular movie to be the overproduced “Samson and Delilah,” Lamarr playing the diabolical woman who wipes out Victor Mature’s strength. Nowadays a C.B. DeMille extravaganza is either lapped up by a gullible mass audience or ridiculed by snobbish critics.
Lamarr not only lost her beauty, causing her to be a recluse in her flat, but despite having married and tossed out six husbands including a Texas oil millionaire, she did not take plan her finances wisely and wound up with the aforementioned $300/month in Social Security. She did what she could to hide her Jewish identity—in fact her mom converted to Catholicism—which would not have cut any ice with the Nazis.
Best of all are the narrations of Diane Kruger, one of the world’s great actresses whose stunning “In the Fade” (2017) won the New York Film Critics Online for Best Foreign Feature. NYFCO at the same time gave legs to “Bombshell,” calling it the year’s Best Documentary as well. This feature should be on the list especially of millennials, who have no idea that movies were invented before 1990. For the Greatest Generation, the pic will bring back fond memories when artifice in acting was the style and vulgarity was virtually non-existent.
Unrated. 84 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B-
Technical – B
Overall – B