Shot in digital format, Georg Misch's entertaining documentary Calling Hedy Lamarr has the look of a well-crafted low-budget movie and the feel of a quirky independent film. That is hardly the sort of approach one would expect to find in a documentary about one of the most beautiful, most glamorous, and most synthetic film stars of the 20th century. Yet, Misch mostly gets away with it. What Calling Hedy Lamarr lacks in terms of style and depth of analysis is compensated for by a sly, offbeat look at the cult of celebrity in American culture.
In Calling Hedy Lamarr, several friends and family members of Austrian-born actress and phone addict Hedy Lamarr (1911 or 1913-2000) get together in a staged conference call to talk about the legendary movie star. Among those are Lamarr's former South Florida neighbors, a journalist, and the actress' son and daughter.
They reminisce about Lamarr's famous beauty, her unusual character traits, her film career, her numerous husbands and lovers, and her creative mind. (She and a friend, George Antheil, patented the concept of “frequency hopping,” currently used in cell phones, certain “smart” bombs, and other devices.) Recollections range from the mundane to the bizarre. One friend, for instance, mentions one of Lamarr's outings at a local fast-food place. Another recalls the actress' 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.
The phone conversations are interspersed with snippets showing Hedy Lamarr being interviewed, her television appearances, and the actress at home doing a Sunset Blvd. send-up. Misch also includes a number of clips from Lamarr' films, among them Gustav Machatý's Czech-made Ecstasy (1933), in which she has brief nude and sex scenes that caused a furor at the time, and John Cromwell's Algiers (1938), her first Hollywood vehicle – the one in which Charles Boyer's doesn't beg her to cum wiz him to the Casbah.
But mostly, when people aren't on the phone either chatting with Hedy Lamarr – courtesy of some clever editing – or chatting about her, we get to see long sections featuring Anthony Loder, Lamarr's son with actor John Loder. It's up to Loder to convey the ephemeralness of his mother's fame, in addition to discussing his own failure at becoming a film personality. Can't help but wonder what Hedy Lamarr would think about all this.
Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004). Director and Scr.: Georg Misch.
Hedy Lamarr photos: Mischief Films
Hedy Lamarr: Shoplifting & 'Ecstasy and Me'
Hedy Lamarr was a major MGM star in the early 1940s. Among her movies at the studio were I Take This Woman, Boom Town, Comrade X, Ziegfeld Girl, and White Cargo. Her co-stars included Spencer Tracy, Robert Taylor, Clark Gable, William Powell, and Walter Pidgeon. As the decade came to a close, Lamarr had her biggest box office hit: Cecil B. DeMille's Paramount release Samson and Delilah, starring Victor Mature.
After her movie stardom had faded, Lamarr was involved in a few bizarre incidents. In 1965, she was arrested in Los Angeles for shoplifting. Though later cleared of all charges, she lost a small role in the B movie Picture Mommy Dead because of that incident. Zsa Zsa Gabor replaced her.
Curiously, there would be another shoplifting charge in Florida in 1991, this time for $21.48 worth of laxatives and eye drops. Lamarr's attorney explained that the shoplifting was actually a case of absentmindedness: Lamarr, 77, had been shopping with two other friends, and had in fact paid for the other items she had bought at the store. She could have contested the (absurd) charges, but preferred to plead “no contest” so she would not have to appear in court and face a barrage of tabloid reporters.
Through her attorney, the quite wealthy former actress promised she would refrain from breaking any laws for a year, and the charges were dropped. Rumors that Hedy Lamarr was a kleptomaniac seem to have absolutely no basis in reality.
Another latter-day curiosity: Lamarr filed a $21 million lawsuit against ghostwriters Leo Guild and Sy Rice. She alleged that they had turned her autobiography, the highly readable Ecstasy and Me: My Life As a Woman (1966), into a book that was “fictional, false, vulgar, scandalous, libelous, and obscene.”
Check out q&a with author Patrick Agan, who knew Hedy Lamarr, and my brief review of the documentary Calling Hedy Lamarr.
Apparently in her sleep, Hedy Lamarr died of “natural causes” at the age of 85 on Jan. 19, 2000, in a suburb of Orlando, Florida.