Friday, May 6, 2011

Hedy Lamarr

Any girl can look glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.
Hedy Lamarr

When I was a kid I spent many Saturday afternoons watching movies on television.  One of the movies that I saw numerous times and seemed to be on about once a month was "Samson and Delilah" starring Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature.  So I was very pleasantly surprised to see that Hedy Lamarr was on the list as the subject of my class last night.  I knew nothing about Hedy Lamarr herself but had spent so many afternoons as a young teenager watching her that I felt as if I did know her.  Well, I was completely wrong.  While I had always had the impression that she was a "B" actress, she was actually quite a wonderful actress who was stifled by the filmmakers of the post-code era.  Hedy Lamarr was born in 1913 in Austria and made several films in the early 30's in Europe that brought her to the attention of Hollywood.  She came to Hollywood in 1938, starred in the film "Algiers" with Charles Boyer and her career was started.  She was truly one of the most beautiful women to ever be in films (imagine Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor rolled into one) which over-shadowed her acting.  She was cast as the silent but gorgeous costar throughout the 40's, which is probably what prompted her to say the line that I quoted above.  Yet, as she aged, staying just as beautiful, she found her footing as a dramatic actress in such films as "Samson and Delilah" "White Cargo" and "Lady Without a Passport." However, the film that we saw in it's entirety last night was her first film from 1933 called "Ecstasy."  It was made by a Czechoslovakian filmmaker and was one of the most daring films of its time.  Even by modern standards, it is still quite daring.  Hedy plays a very young woman who marries an older man who turns out to be cold, probably OCD and unable to consummate the marriage.  She longs for the sexual fulfillment that marriage should bring so she leaves him.  She meets a much younger man while out swimming (naked, of course) and what follows is something I never thought I'd see in a film from the 1930's.  It is the first ever filmed sequence of intercourse.  It is all done with shadows and filmed through gauze, but the film maker's focus on Hedy's face throughout the scene tells the whole story.  It is actually quite beautiful.  The film itself is quite strange as there is very little dialogue and there is a very long and odd scene at the end of men working in the fields, but there are many references to sexual longing throughout the film using flowers, horses, bees and the waving wheat in the fields.  Hedy's portrayal of this young woman is almost breathtaking.  With the lack of dialogue, she is left with only her face as a way to convey her struggles or her happiness.  She divorces the older man, has a rendezvous with the younger man, the older man finds them and commits suicide in the room upstairs.  Hedy and her young man have planned to leave town by train the next day but Hedy cannot go through with it.  Her guilt over the older man's suicide is something she cannot forget.  As they are waiting for the train, her young man falls asleep, she gathers her things together, kisses him one last time and gets on the train going the opposite way.  I was very moved by her performance, especially from someone so young (she was only 19.)  In "Ecstasy" she was neither made up or made to wear glamorous clothes.  She was merely a young woman.  I could see the woman Hedy would become later in her career in that lovely teenage face.  
I am glad to know the real Hedy Lamarr. 


No comments:

Post a Comment