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Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
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by Jay Seaver

"A movie Lamarr wouldn't feel bad about having her name on."
3 stars

One would think that there would have been a great movie about Hedy Lamarr's story by now, but it hasn't happened yet, and this documentary isn't quite it. There are almost too many ways to approach it, perhaps, and the greatest chapters are either apocryphal or end in disappointment; the beautiful genius movie star never gets the Hollywood ending. This film does its best to extract useful lessons from that, even if in doing so it has a hard time deciding what to keep and what to leave out.

For those not familiar with Hedwig Eva Kiesler, given the screen name of "Hedy Lamarr" when she was signed to an MGM contract after fleeing Austria during World War II, she lived a heck of a life: Born in cosmopolitan Vienna in 1914, she went into acting as a teenager, becoming equally parts famous and infamous for Extase, a sexually provocative film made when she was 17, before marrying a munitions manufacturer who sold to the Nazis. Legend is she fled by disguising herself as the maid, making her way to London and then America, where she was celebrated as one of the most beautiful and glamorous movie stars in the world with a gossip-page-worthy personal life. Her greatest accomplishment, though, was arguably one few knew much about until later in her life and after her death: Responding to a call for new ideas, she and avant-garde composer George Antheil collaborated on "frequency hopping", a method for switching the frequencies used to control a torpedo remotely that would avoid jamming. The Navy said it would not be possible to implement - and why don't you put your pretty face to better use selling war bonds - but it would later serve as the foundation for most forms of secure wireless communication.

There's a long time between WWII and Wi-Fi, and it's during this period that filmmaker Alexandra Dean occasionally stumbles. That it's in many ways not a satisfying story is at least partially the point - a world that had little use for her mind and independence turned on her as she aged - but the clear admiration that Dean and her collaborators have for her sometimes seems to keep them from really digging into the parts that don't cast her in a good light. There's an adopted son who chose to live with another family and grandchildren who talk of her being distant, and it doesn't quite mesh with the talk of her as a devoted single parent to her biological children. It's all over the place, and not just because the latter half of Lamarr's life was messy.

On the other hand, it is a fascinating life, and there's a peculiar satisfaction in hearing Lamarr tell much of it in her own words, from a 1990 interview whose audio was misplaced for years. Lamarr's voice sometimes reveals the unsteady nature that the filmmakers often seem unable to handle, exposing a tendency to both overstate and underplay her own importance. Dean makes plenty of use of archival material as well, and if the some of it occasionally seems off for a moment - a picture that doesn't quite match the point being made, or a clip of the Merv Griffin show where a wisecracking Woody Allen seems a distraction - they certainly give an idea of her personality in the aggregate.

Dean avoids having a narrator other than Lamarr, for the most part (letters from her youth are read by Diane Kruger, identified as the potential star of a drama based upon Lamarr's life yet to begin production), instead using interviews with friends, family, and others to set up the next bit of footage. As one might expect, Mel Brooks delivers a few great laughs while also showing the spell she had on her fans, and Peter Bogdanovich brings some of the most pointed analysis. Bits of animation fill in certain gaps that film and pictures don't quite cover, as well as illustrating the more technical parts of Lamarr's inventions.

"Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story" is often just that - a story that lays out what events happened without necessarily getting too deep into its subject's head to figure out why, which is a shame; she's a complicated-enough figure to merit such a look. But that is, perhaps, the job of a different sort of film or another medium altogether. This film serves as a good overview, especially for those who have heard one or two interesting things about the actress, and you can certainly learn more once your interest is piqued.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31781&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/18/18 00:19:32
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USA
  24-Nov-2017

UK
  09-Mar-2018 (12)

Australia
  24-Nov-2017 (M)


Directed by
  Alexandra Dean

Written by
  Alexandra Dean

Cast
  (documentary)



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