“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”

This thought-provoking quotation by Hedy Lamarr is presented early on in Bombshell, the new documentary by Alexandra Dean. Lamarr’s significance may be lost on the current generation, but in her time, she was a household name and Hollywood icon.

Defined by having the most beautiful face in the world, the film explores the surprising life of a figure who fought her whole life to be recognised for something more than her appearance. In her public image, she was an international film star and style icon; in contrast, her private life was dominated by her fascination of the world around her and she spent much of her time working on her own pioneering inventions.

Painting a vivid picture of her captivating and yet poignant biography, the film’s narrative is delivered predominantly through forgotten tape recordings and a charming visual montage of archive photos and video footage. Visually impressive, the portrayal serves as a thoughtful tribute to a figure who led a difficult life and was constantly underestimated by the male figures in her world.

On first glance, Lamarr’s story appears a Hollywood cliché involving drugs, arrests, numerous husbands and plastic surgery. However, an extraordinary twist in her tale reveals her involvement in the co-creation of a revolutionary torpedo guiding system during World War II, based on the novel idea of ‘frequency hopping’. Despite being granted a US patent, she and her co-creator George Antheil received no official recognition for their work. The bombshell of this: frequency hopping now underpins much modern-day technology. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile phones and certain military equipment would not be possible without the groundwork they developed.

With the current media focus around gender exploitation in the entertainment industry, this piece of work feels very relevant. In essence, it is an explosive story of a woman who was in a man’s world and fought against the status quo. Her ability to see the world in a different way showcased a creativity that only truly great inventors possess. Her inventions had the potential to contribute to the wellbeing of human kind, but she was dismissed because she was a woman famed for her beauty. As a result, she was a victim of the system that made her famous.

Bombshell also serves as a call for wider recognition into the impact that this remarkable woman had on technology and science. Although she only started to receive acknowledgement for her contributions towards the later part of her life (and at this point I would like to add that it was too late for her to receive financial remuneration), her passion and determination to keep fighting for recognition should be admired and championed. To quote Kent. M. Keith whose words she recalls at the end of the documentary:

“The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.”


Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story opens in cinemas on 9 March 2018. Book tickets here.