Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is the riveting biopic of a glamorous movie star who invented and patented the precursor to wireless technology; that’s amazing enough, but Bombshell delves deeply into how Lamarr’s stunning face, her Jewish heritage, and mid-century gender roles shaped her career, marriages and parenting. Top notch.
In the last few years, one totally unexpected aspect of Lamarr’s life has become more well-known. She was a tinkerer/inventor who co-invented a radio guidance system for submarine torpedos, which she donated to the US military. The US Navy used this technology in WW II. Modern blue tooth technology stems directly from her innovation. Today her patent would be worth billions.
Bombshell adds layer upon layer to this tale of beauty and brains, as it traces Lamarr’s remarkable life. Hedy Lamarr had no control over being born a woman, being born to Jewish parents and being born to be a beauty. These three accidents of birth set the parameters of her journey – granting her access to some professional opportunities and stunting others, even threatening her life.
She burst into celebrity – and notoriety – at age 19, as the star of the film Ecstasy. Not only was Hedy the first actress filmed in full frontal nudity, she was the first screen actress to portray female orgasms. She was soon the young trophy wife of an Austrian industrialist, a formidable and fearsome supplier of munitions to Hitler. Hedy’s life seemed headed along the Bimbo Track, but she realized that her husband was powerful enough to keep her trapped in the marriage, but not powerful enough to protect her from the Nazis. At this point, she orchestrated an international escape that is the stuff of thrillers.
At age 24, often nominated as the most beautiful woman in the world, she launched a Hollywood career. Professional ups and downs, marriages and affairs and children followed, along with her work in technology.
Her beauty was often a blessing and sometimes a curse, but always affected her trajectory. Someone that beautiful is just different – the rest of us can’t help our reactions to her. But how many times can you be a trophy wife?
She was a person who survived troubling times, which left scars on her. How Hedy handled her Jewishness, how she raised her kids and how she was treated by the military are unsettling. Documentarian Alexandra Dean, Bombshell’s writer-director brings us witnesses, including Hedy’s children, to deliver an inside peek at a real life that would not be believable as a work of fiction.
I saw Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story this summer at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SJFF). It’s coming to theaters this week.