Documentary that shows the movie star was so much more than a pretty face
As the star of classic movies like The Strange Woman and Samson and Delilah, Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr was one of the queens of Hollywood's Golden Age. She was a favourite with filmmakers and audiences alike for her stunning, sultry European looks — but the title of Alexandra Dean's fantastic documentary has absolutely nothing to do with Lamarr's captivating visage.
Instead, the 'bombshell' refers to the incredible revelations about Lamarr which Dean serves up through archive footage and interviews with friends, family, pundits and the late actress herself, which have more to do with blueprints than celluloid. It transpires that not only was Lamarr a keen inventor and scientist from a young age, she made a groundbreaking discovery that has impacted the way we live today.
That was 'frequency hopping' – a way to protect torpedo radio transmissions during World War II – which has since become common usage in military operations, and formed the basis for the now-ubiquitous GPS, mobile phones and WiFi technology. While she secured a patent for her invention, she received little credit for it in life, for reasons that are familiar, infuriating and summed up by the fact that when she approached the US Navy with her findings, she was told to sell war bonds as that would be a better use of her pretty head.
Lamarr did sell a boatload of war bonds and remained pragmatic about her lot which, along with being treated as just a beautiful airhead, included being labelled as 'difficult' by Hollywood for making her own independent films when studio fare proved less than satisfactory.
Crucially, by framing the film with a recently discovered 1990 phone interview between Lamarr and Forbes reporter Fleming Meeks, Dean is finally able to make Lamarr the defining voice in her own story. While she regarded her brain as her best feature and was disappointed that she never broke out of the film star mould, she was never bitter. Intriguing and inspiring, she is something of a feminist hero; not just because of her incredible life story, but also her refreshing, determined and decidedly modern outlook.
Limited release from Fri 9 Mar.