Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna, then part of the Austria-Hungary Empire which collapsed at the end of World War 1. She worked in Max Reinhardt theatrical company as a stage actress but then moved into the German film industry. Her most famous role was in Ekstase (1933), a Czech/Austrian production in German directed by Gustav Machaty. The film featured erotic scenes and a nude bathing sequence which ensured that it achieved notoriety. The film was screened at the a Leeds International Film Festival along with an earlier silent tile by Machaty, Erotikon (1929),
A failing marriage with a military munitions business man [experience she utilised later] and her Jewish status led Lamarr to leave Germany. She was recruited in Paris by Louis B. Mayer to the M-G-M studio. In Hollywood Lamar became a famed on-screen beauty. However, her roles tended to be based on her physical attributes and tended towards exotic characters. She rarely was cast in roles with strong acting potential.
Hedy Lamarr was with M-G-M from 1939 until 1943. Titles there included White Cargo (1942) in which she played Tondelayo, a black siren who seduces white colonial administrators (Richard Carlson). The story, which also had an earlier British version in 1929, suffered from racist caricature. H.M. Pulham, Esq (1941), adapted from John P Marquand’s novel, was of higher quality and was directed by King Vidor. Lamarr’s Marvin Myles was cast opposite Robert Young’s Harry Pulham.
For several years she worked free-lance, including with Warner Brothers, more titles for M-G-M, two minor Hollywood studios and at RKO. The last was Experiment Perilous (1944), directed by Jacques Torneur, which had her playing Allida Bederaux opposite George Brent and Paul Lukas in a Gothic melodrama.
Then she was at Paramount from 1949 until 1951. Here she played one of her most famous roles as Delilah in Cecil B de Mille’s Sampson and Delilah (1949), opposite Victor Mature playing the Jewish prophet and hairy heavy.
Lamarr’s film career ran out in the 1950s. However, aside from acting her ‘hobbies’ involving inventions give her story a distinctive turn. Hedy Lamarr had picked up some military science know-how from her first husband. During World War II, with support from the mogul Howard Hughes, she helped to develop a ‘radio-hopping’ device which has been utilised in more recent technologies.
Alexandra Dean’s documentary presents both aspects of her story, combining film clips and interviews, including audio tapes of Hedy Lamarr. It should provide a fascinating representation of both the film industry and the unseen other life of a Hollywood star. Hedy Lamarr was one of a select group of female stars described as the ‘world’s most beautiful woman’. More accurately the publicists could have described her as both the ‘most beautiful’ and ‘the smartest’.
Cinephiles’ Health Warning:
The title has archive footage in academy ratio reframed to 1.78:1 [television’s 16:9]. Oddly some television footage [4 by 3] and some 16mm footage [academy] are both in their original ratio.