DVD Movie Review: Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

By Wes Maulsby 27.04.2018

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Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (UK Rating: 12)

Hedy Lamarr is an actress who enjoyed a fairly prominent career in Hollywood in the '40s, although she is not as well remembered as many of her peers. She has few award nominations, and she was not among the American Film Institute's 25 greatest female stars in the history of Hollywood, which was mostly occupied by other actresses of the same time period as her. In this new documentary - Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, released via DVD and Video On-Demand from 23rd April via Dogwoof - viewers are told that Lamarr is yet another individual whose potential was cut short by a fairly vicious old Hollywood studio system. In a very straightforward manner, it tells the story of a woman who was far more than her star image implied.

Lamarr was born into an affluent Austrian family as Hedwig Kiesler, and showed an interest in machinery, technology, and general engineering at an early age. As she grew older, however, she began to be more known for her stunning appearance, which she parlayed into a film career while only a teenager. Once the war broke out in Europe, she fled to America and cunningly used her beauty to secure a contract with MGM. It wouldn't be long before she would become a star with a host of imitators trying to mimic her envied appearance, but her aspirations were not limited to the silver screen, which is the focus of the documentary. Lamarr frequently showed more interest in tinkering in her home or trailer, and this desire for creating something important and significant led to her teaming with an unusual Hollywood composer to come up with the concept of frequency hopping for guiding torpedoes. Although her invention was not used during World War II, it would go on to become a core basis for many current wireless communication means.

In addition to her inventiveness, she was in many ways a pioneer in filmmaking, as well. She directed and produced multiple films at a time in which it was exceedingly uncommon for women to have such roles. She was a pioneering artist who could have been among the most envied of artists at the time, but it was all the fault of the rigid studio system, which chewed her up and promptly spat her out when it thought she was through. At least that is the impression the documentary wants you to have. The biggest weakness of the film is that it, almost without exception, attributes Lamarr's career or personal shortcomings to her being a victim of external circumstances. Her film career, profits from her patent, career earnings and, ultimately, her excessively plastic surgery and later isolation were all the result of her being a victim of some kind.

The documentary does not do enough to explore any of her career or personal shortcomings as a consequence of her own poor decision making or ability. This was a woman who was married six times, who adopted a delinquent son, whom she later sent to a military academy and gave up to a different family, and who allowed public perception of her to control aspects of her later life, which made her into a recluse. No-one in life is perfect, and no-one is only exclusively the victim throughout their life. There are a handful of instances here and there in which the idea of her being at fault is entertained, but those moments are short-lived. It is easy to understand that the focus of the documentary was to explore more of her inventive and pioneering side, but placing that at the expense of a more comprehensive and potentially challenging look at Hedy Lamarr sells her accomplishments and her legacy short.

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is exactly what a good documentary should be at its core: it tells an interesting story of a person who, while fairly well known, was not who her public perception made her out to be. In it viewers get to know an icon of Classical Hollywood for who she really was, and not who her films and publicity told the world she was. Unfortunately, this story of Hedy Lamarr is fairly one-sided, and does not allow the audience to make its own judgements of her story, opting to tell people instead. Coupling this with a very typical documentary structure, results in a film that while still very good, cannot make the jump into great or must-view territory.

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