- Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004) documentary review: Georg Misch’s unpretentious documentary mostly dwells on a curious topic: The telephone addiction of the glamorous White Cargo and Samson and Delilah star. More superficially discussed are the cult of celebrity in the United States and the ephemeralness of fame.
Calling Hedy Lamarr documentary review: Glamorous Hollywood star’s phone addiction + cult of celebrity in American society
Shot in digital format, Georg Misch’s Calling Hedy Lamarr – about the frequency hopping co-elaborator, Hollywood actress, and telephone addict – has the look of a well-crafted low-budget production and the feel of a quirky 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, opposite Victor Mature, at Paramount.
Yet Misch mostly gets away with it. What Calling Hedy Lamarr lacks in terms of style and depth of analysis is compensated for by an offbeat look at the cult of celebrity in American society.
Fast food & spy rumors
The documentary’s narrative framework has several 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), and, most notoriously, Eva Hermann (the adulterous wife enjoying a bit of skinny-dipping and a close-up orgasm in 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 film 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 movie star than caring mom.
Hedy Lamarr herself is film’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 usually keeps its focus on 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, in addition to discussing his own failure at becoming a movie celebrity.
One can only wonder what Hedy Lamarr would have thought of it all.
Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004)
Director & Screenplay: Georg Misch.
Cinematography: Jon Sayers. Film Editing: Michael Palm. Music: Jim Howard. Producers: Georg Misch, Gunter Hanfgarn, Anthony Loder, Martin Rosenbaum, and Ralph Wieser.
“Calling Hedy Lamarr Documentary (2004) Review” notes
Hedy Lamarr & frequency hopping
 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.
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Calling Hedy Lamarr documentary (2004) reviewed at the AFI FEST.
AFI FEST website.
Hedy Lamarr images: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer publicity | Mischief Films.
“Calling Hedy Lamarr Documentary (2004) Review: Glamorous Phone Addict + Cult of Celebrity” last updated in March 2021.