Hedy Lamarr in Ziegfeld Girl (1941) (Zeitgeist Films)

In 2015, screen goddess and classic Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr was honored with an animated doodle on Google—and not because of her glamorous life. That was the moment when a lot of people rediscovered who was largely responsible for frequency hopping technology. Her revolutionary invention, during World War II, was the first step for the kind of technology that led to the existence of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. However, in the 1940s, Lamarr was considered one of the most beautiful women on Earth. With a distinction like that, it was difficult to be known for anything else.

A biopic with nuance and epic scope, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story is a splendid documentary that vindicates the legacy of a brilliant woman with a fascinating life. It also marks the directorial debut of Alexandra Dean, who manages a balance between honoring and scrutinizing her exceptional subject. Dean meticulously details how Lamarr made her invention, for which she never received remuneration. Applause came late, if at all. Through Lamarr’s interviews and Diane Kruger’s voice-overs based on Lamarr’s writings, Dean has crafted a complex and extraordinarily flawed human being. The film is aided by interviews with family members; scientists; and famous faces such as Mel Brooks, friend Robert Osborne, and Kruger; footage from Lamarr’s movies; and a few animated re-creations.

So we see glimpses of what Hollywood legends are made of, her nude scene in the once scandalous Ecstasy (the Czech/Austrian movie that also allegedly depicts the first female orgasm on screen), her escaped from her first marriage, her Hollywood movies, and also the star’s dark side: the adopted son she left behind, her denial of her Jewish heritage, an infamous shoplifting incident, drug addiction, and the plastic surgeries that distorted her face (she was a pioneer in that area, too). In addition, she recommended to Howard Hughes a way to create a fast plane and took the risk of producing her own movies independently. (Unfortunately, that led to Loves of Three Queens, an epic fail.) Lamarr always wanted to be recognized as more than a pretty face and to be known for her intelligence, but she was victim of the biased perception that her beauty was her greatest gift. Beauty was a curse, indeed, as she claimed, as was growing older in the public eye.

As a documentary, Bombshell succeeds in creating a moving and well-rounded portrait. The real star is the voice of an older Lamarr, from an audio tape of an almost lost 1990 interview, rediscovered in 2016. Every time she speaks here, you hear someone funny, clever, self-deprecating, and confident. The time has now come to grant due respect to her voice and just listen.

Written and Directed by Alexandra Dean
Released by Zeitgeist Films
USA. 89 min. Not rated