The famously beautiful actress Hedy Lamarr set movie screens ablaze in the 1940s and '50s, but what few knew was that her true calling was as an inventor: Credit Lamarr with the Wi-Fi technology bringing you this review. In this superb documentary, first-time filmmaker Alexandra Dean uses newly discovered audio tapes from a 1990 interview to let Lamarr -- with valuable insight from historians, her children and friends such as the late Robert Osborne -- tell the amazing story of her life. Born in Austria, she shocked the world at age 16 by appearing in a scandalous nudie pic called Ekstase (1933), which the pope denounced and Hitler banned. At 18, she married a munitions tycoon whose controlling ways (and ties to Mussolini and the Nazis) sent her fleeing to Paris in an escape story so wild and inherently cinematic that it cries out to be dramatized. Hollywood soon made her a star -- Algiers and Samson and Delilah are among her best remembered films -- but all along Lamarr was honing her skills as an amateur engineer.
In an inspired stroke, Dean uses animation to show how Lamarr visualized the inner workings of every object such as player pianos and TV remotes, a way of seeing that helped her devise a frequency-hopping radio signal that would change the world. Recognition (and compensation) proved elusive in Lamarr's lifetime, but in this marvelous documentary, a brilliant woman -- "I'm a very simple, complicated person" -- finally gets her due.