Bombshell: Hedy Lamarr, movie star and scientist

Review: Treat of a documentary about the actor and inventor who died broke

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Director: Alexandra Dean
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Hedy Lamarr, Mel Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, Diane Kruger
Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins

For many decades only a few Hollywood nerds and technology buffs knew that Hedy Lamarr held the patent on an electronics communications system. One might argue that, as her films have faded in the memory, that fact is now the best known thing about her.

"Isn't she the woman who invented Bluetooth?" some people say. "Isn't that a character in Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles?" some others say. That character, played by Harvey Korman, was, of course, Hedley Lamarr and Brooks is here to remind us how, when he was young, Lamarr really was the most glamorous movie star on the planet. Peter Bogdanovich and Diane Kruger join him and members of Lamarr's family to construct a fascinating portrait of an endlessly colourful, deeply fascinating human being.

She was born as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna during the early days of the first World War. As a young actress, she appeared in a racy erotic drama called Ecstasy whose nude scenes were to cause difficulties when, following the rise of Hitler, she made her way to Hollywood. With similar dark, balanced features to her exact contemporary Vivien Leigh, she eventually found fame as a vamp in films of varied quality.

Great lucidity

Her amateur experiments in frequency-hopping communication provide the core of this well structured, consistently diverting documentary.


Lamarr, who ended her days in financial straits, never received a penny for researches that did indeed lead on to technology such as Bluetooth, but, as we learn here, she eventually picked up recognition from later generations of boffins.

Alexandra Dean's picture talks us through these details with great lucidity. Bombshell suffers from some common complaints of modern documentary – too much music; unnecessary, if perfectly decent, animated sequences – but it does remind us of a class of personality that doesn't exist anymore.

Lamarr was nobody’s idea of a great actress, but her émigré glamour buzzed deep into middle age. How many other stars sued the writer of their own autobiography? Certainly none other devised a way of remotely controlling torpedoes.

A treat.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist