Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hedy Lamarr, Nude & In Ecstasy

Hedy Lamarr's first films were made in Germany and Czechoslavakia, but it was film number five which was the one which really started her career. The film was the notorious 1933 Czechoslovakian erotic drama Exstase (aka Ecstasy), and I recently watched it on TCM (Oh, how I love thee!).

An early "talkie", the film has little spoken dialog. In fact, I was startled to hear human voices, for having watched at great length & hearing only music, I had determined that this was a silent film. (It also has English subtitles, including for the song lyrics.)

In the film, Lamarr plays Eva, a young wife who, unhappy from the first day of her new marriage, leaves her husband and heads back to her father's house, intending to ask for a divorce. Papa is rich, with a large home and horses, which leads to the lush outdoor nude scenes.



While she's skinny-dipping, her horse runs off, literally answering the "call of the wild" from a stallion. Forced to chase after the horse, Eva finds herself hiding in the brush as a young man, named Adam, of course, catches her horse. (Au) Natural-ly Adam (Aribert Mog) discovers the nude Eva, and proffers her the nightie which (luckily) remained on the runaway horse's back.

She rebuffs him, but later that night, a storm is brewing. The tempest outside matches her emotions, and Eva finds herself heading to the young man's residence. What follows are the scenes which caused the most trouble.

According Banned Films: Movies, Censors, and the First Amendment, by Edward De Grazia and Roger K. Newman:

"It was the close-ups of [Lamarr's] facial expressions which chiefly shocked the jury," the New York Times reported after the trial. Hollywood magazine concurred: "All you see, all the camera gives you, is Eva's face. Hundreds of feet of Hedy's face, covering the whole range of love. You get it from her expression or you don't get it at all".

In truth, watching the film, you can't mistake it. Her pearl necklace breaks, and pearls are splayed along the floorboards, removing any doubts. And, as neither couple undresses, it would appear that her orgasm is due to receiving oral sex. (Scandalous!)

Here's (roughly) the first half of the film, and right around minute 44 the scene begins...



Some credit Ecstasy and Lamarr with the first nude scenes, which is inaccurate. However, the film was blocked in 1935 by US Customs from import into the US for its obscenity, and that is a first.

Others call Lamarr's Eva "adulterous"; which is technically accurate as the young couple consummate prior to the dissolution of her marriage to Emile (Jaromir Rogoz), but hardly the same as a "cheating" spouse.

However, the fact remains that the film is a wonder of eroticism, unlike anything that predates it (other than true porn). No wonder and Joseph Breen (of the Hays Office) also refused to give Ecstasy approval. According to de Grazia & Newman, Breen refused because:
It is a story of illicit love and frustrated sex, treated in detail without sufficient compensating moral values, the portrayal of a mare in heat, and of a rearing stallion, the actual scene in the cabin where the woman's face registers the varying emotions of the sexual act--all are designed to stimulate the lower and baser elements and are suggestive, lustful and obscene. [It] is designed to glorify sexual intercourse between human beings and between animals, and to arouse lustful feelings in those who see it.
Eventually, an edited version of Ecstasy was released in the US; but I've not seen that version. Apparently it makes quite a story change along with the removal of nudity and Hedy's orgasmic face.

In the original, Emile comes a callin', trying to get Eva back. She refuses and he leaves, coincidentally taking the road near Adam's project... I don't want to spoil things for you (so stop reading here if you don't want to know the film's ending!), but...

Emile recognizes Adam's relationship to Eva (due to the fact that he is carrying her necklace, now repaired), and he commits suicide in the very hotel when Eva and Adam are celebrating their romance and planning to run away to marry.

While this was not a US film made under the Hollywood Code, I still wondered... Would Eva be punished even more?

Devastated by Emile's death, she is unable to runaway with Adam -- who has no clue of the history between Eva and Emile. She leaves him sleeping at the train station, dreaming, no doubt of their future.

The train leaves and next we have a montage of sorts, accompanied by what the subtitles only called a "workers chant". Images of spring, in the dripping-water in buckets and workers wielding pick-axes sort of a way. Honestly, it was so long -- and without a recognizable face -- that I began to wonder if they had made a gross error, splicing in some footage from some other old film. Then we see Adam.

He seems older, less happy, but he has a distant look in his eye... The camera shows us a Mexican or Native American women with two young children; one a toddler seated behind her who waves at Adam, and, on the woman's back, a baby who still manages to play with his own toes. We see Adam's face again, with another odd look -- then we see Eva, playing with a babe of her own. It must be Adam's baby... He knows, in that magical way only a-man-who-really-loves-a-woman can.

But that's it. The End.

So Eva may not have her love, but she keeps her baby. Rather a mixed message. And a surprising one.

Well worth the excruciating minutes of chanting montage, anyway.

It's also interesting to see an equally beautiful, but less sophisticated & polished glamor-girl version of Hedy Lamarr.

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2 Comments:

OpenID not2shy said...

It's less well known that she was also a rather brilliant physicist. During WW2 she co-invented frequency hopping for remote control systems, particularly for torpedoes. It was a bit too advanced for the technology of the time, but it's commonplace in things like mobile phones now.

6:31 AM  
Blogger Thursday's Child said...

I'll to see if I can't come up with a copy to watch somehow...I do love pre-Code movies. Queen Christina with Greta Garbo was on the other night...another beautiful photographer movie teeming with charged sexuality!

2:21 PM  

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