For her entire professional life, Hedy Lamarr was seen for her beauty, not her brains. Born Hedwig Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Lamarr showed a proficiency with machines and invention, taking apart and rebuilding one of her music boxes at the age of 5. Yet in the film world, Lamarr was known for her looks, a staggering beauty that inspired the look for Snow White and Catwoman. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story tries to show that even one of the 1930’s biggest film stars contain multitudes, as Lamarr is a person that can’t easily be summarized. But writer-director Alexandra Dean’s film often focuses too much on the much publicized parts of Lamarr’s life, rather than the lesser known inventor side of Lamarr that her film is trying to bring to light.
As a documentary/biopic, Bombshell can be enlightening to those that aren’t aware of Lamarr’s more significant accomplishments – like myself – and the uncovering of these facts can be quite unexpected. Dean puts Lamarr’s story through the typical doc ringer, mostly told through talking heads, archival footage, and narration supplied by her children and grandchildren.
This is an unusual choice considering that Bombshell starts out with the uncovering of interviews from 1990 that have never been heard by the public before. In Lamarr’s interview with then-Forbes magazine writer Fleming Meeks in 1990, Lamarr shares intimate details of her life and career. The bits and pieces of this interview are where Bombshell shines, as she chronicles the mistakes she’s made over her life, and the gifts she has given mankind, without being compensated.
Lamarr’s life – as shown by Dean – is truly fascinating at times. Her early life is packed with insane details, such as having Mussolini over to her house for dinner, escaping the Nazis with the help of Louis B. Mayer and performing the cinema’s first orgasm, all before Lamarr even turned 20.
Despite being an important part of Lamarr’s life, it’s strange how much Dean focuses on the gossipy side of Lamarr. Even when she does focus on this, not enough attention is paid to make these sequences worth nothing. Several times, Dean talks about one of Lamarr’s failed marriages, only to break down the entire relationship to a few seconds of the film.
Also considering how Lamarr was clearly more interested in her scientific endeavors than her film career, it’s odd how much time Dean spends on her difficult Hollywood life. There are failures here that are integral to showing Lamarr as a forward-thinking actress, such as producing her own films and disowning an autobiography she denies writing, but again, the film never delves enough into what makes these failures so impactful.
That lack of introspection bleeds into her scientific life as well, when Lamarr submits a patent that the U.S. government uses, then never gives her payment or recognition until decades later. There’s never explanation as to why when her Hollywood career was waning, why she didn’t fall back onto her earlier love of science. Lamarr seems to have fallen into unfortunate Hollywood trappings for the time, such as extensive plastic surgery and visits from Dr. Feelgood’s meth injections, but it’s never quite clear why Lamarr didn’t refocus her career.
At less than an hour and a half, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is a rapid-fire abbreviation of Lamarr’s life that lacks the depth that such a brilliant icon deserves. As a CliffsNotes of what Lamarr’s life in Hollywood and contributions to society have been, it’s not a bad jumping off point. But for a person that contained as many layers as Lamarr, it’s disappointing that Dean doesn’t dive deeper into what made Lamarr a one-of-a-kind.