- Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004) review: In his low-key, unpretentious documentary, Georg Misch mostly dwells on the phone addiction of the glamorous White Cargo and Samson and Delilah star. More superficially discussed are the ephemeralness of fame and the cult of celebrity in the United States.
- Calling Hedy Lamarr synopsis: Several Hedy Lamarr friends and family members – among them Lamarr’s son and daughter – join a staged conference call during which they discuss the former Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer star, whose favorite pastime seems to have been chatting on the phone at all hours.
Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004) review: Modest documentary places focus on the glamorous Hollywood star’s phone addiction, with a side glimpse into Americans’ cult of celebrity
Shot in digital format, Georg Misch’s Calling Hedy Lamarr – about the seductive Hollywood actress, frequency-hopping concept co-elaborator, and telephone addict – has the look of a well-crafted low-budget production and the feel of an offbeat independent film.
That’s hardly the sort of approach one would expect to find in a documentary centering on one of the most beautiful, most glamorous, and most synthetic film stars of the 20th century, whose credits include Boom Town, Ziegfeld Girl, and White Cargo at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in addition to – by far her biggest hit – Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah at Paramount.
Yet Misch mostly gets away with it. What Calling Hedy Lamarr lacks in terms of style and depth of analysis is to some extent compensated for by an unpretentious look at the cult of celebrity in American society and, more notably, by Lamarr herself, who is seen in several of her films, television appearances, and home movies.
Calling Hedy Lamarr ‘plot’: Fast food & spy rumors
The documentary has a simple framework: A group of friends and family members of the Vienna-born actress (as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on Nov. 9, 1914) get together in a staged conference call.
Their topic of choice?
The performer who brought to big-screen life the likes of Delilah, the “exotic” Tondelayo (White Cargo), Helen of Troy (Loves of Three Queens), Joan of Arc (The Story of Mankind), the sultry Frenchwoman Gaby (who leads Charles Boyer to his death in Algiers), and, most notoriously, Eva Hermann (the adulterous wife enjoying a bit of skinny-dipping and a close-up orgasm in the Czechoslovakian-made drama Ecstasy).
The callers – among them Lamarr’s son and daughter, a journalist, and the actress’ former South Florida neighbors (but no celebrities) – reminisce about her movie career, creative mind, world-famous beauty, unusual character traits, and numerous husbands and lovers (among the former, arms-industry businessman Fritz Mandl, actor John Loder, and screenwriter-producer Gene Markey).
Recollections range from the mundane to the bizarre. One friend, for instance, talks about one of Lamarr’s outings at a local fast-food place. Another recalls her sense of humor. And another yet says she may have been a spy. Lamarr’s children remember their mother more as aloof Hollywood star than caring mom.
The star herself is documentary’s highlight
The phone conversations seen/heard in Calling Hedy Lamarr are interspersed with snippets – the documentary’s de facto highlights – featuring the actress herself being interviewed, guesting on television shows, and, while at home, doing a send-up of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd.
But whenever people aren’t on the phone talking either with Lamarr – courtesy of some clever editing – or about her, the documentary mostly follows Anthony Loder, Lamarr’s son with John Loder (The Mysterious Doctor, The Brighton Strangler).
It’s left up to Loder to convey the ephemeralness of his mother’s fame while also delving into his own failure at becoming a movie celebrity.
One can only wonder what Delilah and Tondelayo would have thought of it all.
Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004) crew info
Direction & Screenplay: Georg Misch.
Cinematography: Jon Sayers.
Film Editing: Michel Palm.
Music: Jim Howard.
Producers: Gunter Hanfgarn, Ralph Wieser, and Martin Rosenbaum.
Production Companies: Hanfgarn & Ufer Filmproduktion | Mischief Films | Lone Star Productions.
Distributor: GMfilms (Germany).
Running Time: 71 min.
Countries: Austria | United Kingdom | Germany.
“Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004): Phone-Addicted Star” notes
Hollywood actress & inventor
 During World War II, Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil (The Plainsman, In a Lonely Place) patented a version of the concept of frequency hopping that was intended to make it more difficult for radio-guided torpedoes to be either detected or jammed. It doesn’t appear that the patent was put to practical use at that time.
Around since the late 19th century, the concept known as “frequency-hopping spread spectrum” is currently used in cell phones, wifi, certain “smart” bombs, and other devices.
Hedy Lamarr died at age 86 in January 2000 in Casselberry, Florida.
Calling Hedy Lamarr movie credits via the British Film Institute (BFI) website.
Hedy Lamarr images: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | Mischief Films.
“Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004): Phone-Addicted Star” last updated in November 2023.