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Bombshell

Publicity for Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story implies that it uncovers hidden truths about the Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr. Specifically, in addition to being super sexy, she helped invent frequency hopping technology to stop enemies from jamming radio-controlled torpedoes in World War II.

There is something sadly fascinating about beautiful celebrities who are also smart, isn’t there? But however fascinating that truth about Lamarr is, it wasn’t hidden. It is well-documented that she was an armchair inventor and was eventually recognized for her achievements.

That Bombshell really doesn’t drop any bombshells is a little bit of letdown. It also raises a question about the film’s intended audience. Those who know about Lamarr probably know about her inventions, and those who don’t know about her inventions probably don’t know, or care, about Lamarr.

As a film about an extraordinary, driven woman, however, Bombshell succeeds. Born in Vienna in 1914, Hedwig Kiesler quickly realized that her extraordinary beauty would leverage her independence more than her intelligence alone. By 18, she was already working in film, the most notorious one being Ecstasy (1933) in which she appears nude and arguably has the first on-screen orgasm.

If that weren’t enough of a feather in her cap, she auditioned for Louis B. Mayer who was in Europe looking for talent. When he offered her a contract, she declined it, citing the low wages. But that wasn’t the last Mayer had heard of her; she found out what ship he was leaving on and booked passage. Dressed in her best clothes, she strolled past him and, after seeing how well she turned heads, Mayer increased his offer.

Lamarr’s fearlessness is really what makes her so interesting. That and her lack of regret. In all aspects of her life she was a problem-solver. She ended her first marriage with a controlling arms manufacturer by swapping clothes with her maid and escaping on a bicycle while her maid slept in Lamarr’s bed. The maid didn’t consent to this; Lamarr drugged her. Inventing frequency hopping technology pales by comparison.

Hollywood celebrities, particularly women, are assumed to be passively successful. They get discovered for their looks and coast from there on out. Lamarr was nothing of the sort. It may have been more lucrative for her to capitalize on her beauty, but Bombshell shows her Hollywood career was as genius as any of her inventions. Remember that next time you watch any of her films. Or use Wi-Fi.

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