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If you use WiFi or GPS, you owe something to Hedy Lamarr. BOMBSHELL: HEDY LAMARR tells the astonishing story of Hedy Lamarr, the beautiful Hollywood star of the 1930s and 1940s who also invented frequency hopping, the idea behind the technology used GPS and Bluetooth. Filled with fascinating details about the life of this most unusual person, gifted with both good looks and brains, yet struggled to find recognition for the latter. Throughout the film, one is struck by how different her life might have been in another era, when she could have more easily pursued her real dream, of being an inventor. One is also struck by how her beauty was sometimes a barrier to her real ambitions. Continue reading…

There are many “what-ifs’ and plenty of surprising details in Alexandra Dean’s documentary. Hedy Lamarr combined brains and beauty but her story is triumph and tragedy. Dean fills the documentary with plenty of footage of the brainy beauty, as well as interviews with her children and grandchildren, film historians, journalists and friends. Notables featured include Peter Bogdanovich, Mel Brooks, and Turner Classic Movie’s Robert Osborne, in his last interview. The portrait the film paints is one of a complex woman, smart and resourceful but sometimes prone to bad choices. Ultimately, there is a sadness to this story, although it is cheering that she received some recognition for her ground-breaking invention late in life.

If Hedy Lamarr’s story was offered as fiction, many might find it far-fetched. There are so many unexpected things in the life of the woman born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna. Her air of elegance came naturally, having grown up in a wealthy, cultured, assimilated Jewish family. Early on, she showed an interest in technology and inventing, as well as a rebellious streak. Rather than going to college and becoming a scientist, her twisty path leads her to Hollywood and movies. Still, with an inventive mind, she tinkered with inventions while working on movies. Wanting to help her adopted country in early WWII, she came up with the idea of frequency hopping, along with composer George Antheil, as a guidance system for torpedo. Yet she was never paid for the use of her patent. She cleverly used her beauty to achieve some goals, but just as often found her intellectual ambitions hampered by assumptions that came with her good looks, and just being a woman in her era.

Alexandra Dean’s well-made film covers the gamut of Hedy Lamarr’s unusual life, the ups and downs, giving us insights into this complex person. Given the technology that sprang from her brilliant invention, BOMBSHELL: HEDY LAMARR is certainly worth a look.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.