Hedy Lamarr Appears Nude in the Czech Film Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Czechoslovakian film Exstase was the first mainstream film to include a nude scene, in which actor Hedy Lamarr played a young bride having an extramarital affair. The scandalous film, denounced around the world, was tagged in its American release as “the most whispered about picture in the world.” Lamarr was known ever after as the Ecstasy Girl.

Summary of Event

The Czechoslovakian film Exstase (Ecstasy), released in Prague on January 20, 1933, was the first mainstream film to show female frontal nudity and a woman’s orgasm. The film’s star was seventeen-year-old Hedy Lamarr, acting under her birth name Hedy (Hedwig) Kiesler. This was her fifth film. Directed by Gustav Machatý, the film rocketed Lamarr to Hollywood stardom largely because of its checkered reception, which was drawn upon by Lamarr and her publicists throughout her life. Lamarr, Hedy Exstase (film) Nudity;Hedy Lamarr[Lamarr] Czechoslovakia [kw]Lamarr Appears Nude in the Czech Film Exstase, Hedy (Jan. 20, 1933) Lamarr, Hedy Exstase (film) Nudity;Hedy Lamarr[Lamarr] Czechoslovakia [g]Europe;Jan. 20, 1933: Hedy Lamarr Appears Nude in the Czech Film Exstase[00540] [g]Czech Republic;Jan. 20, 1933: Hedy Lamarr Appears Nude in the Czech Film Exstase[00540] [c]Film;Jan. 20, 1933: Hedy Lamarr Appears Nude in the Czech Film Exstase[00540] [c]Sex;Jan. 20, 1933: Hedy Lamarr Appears Nude in the Czech Film Exstase[00540] [c]Art movements;Jan. 20, 1933: Hedy Lamarr Appears Nude in the Czech Film Exstase[00540] [c]Public morals;Jan. 20, 1933: Hedy Lamarr Appears Nude in the Czech Film Exstase[00540] [c]Popular culture;Jan. 20, 1933: Hedy Lamarr Appears Nude in the Czech Film Exstase[00540] Mog, Aribert Machatý, Gustav Mayer, Louis B. Breen, Joseph Mandl, Fritz

Hedy Lamarr.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Although technically a sound film, Exstase includes very little dialogue, moving through lusciously shot images to an almost continuous musical score. The story is very simple. Lamarr plays a young bride, Eva, disappointed on her wedding night by her much older husband (played by noted Croatian actor Zvonimir Rogoz), whose impotence leaves her lonely and depressed. The famous nude scene occurs on a summer day when Eva goes riding, leaving her clothing on her horse as she goes for a nude swim. Her mount, attracted by another horse, gallops off with Eva’s clothing, leaving the beautiful young woman to wander nude through meadows and woods in pursuit. Early versions show equine copulation, but censored versions go directly to the horse’s capture by a handsome young worker, Adam, who later makes love to Eva in a scene with a close-up of Lamarr’s face, showing pleasure in orgasm, with her violently broken pearls spilling on the floor beside the bed. Aribert Mog, who played Adam, was rumored to have been in love with Lamarr, raising suspicions that their on-screen passion accompanied a real-life affair.

Exstase raised immediate interest and was censored around the world. Roman Catholic pope Pius XII Pius XII denounced the film, and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;film censorship banned it, especially because Lamarr was Jewish. The Paris release of the film at the Pigalle Theatre was of a cut version. In London, only small film societies showed it until 1938, when the ban against it was lifted. Italy’s Benito Mussolini, Benito Mussolini, however, championed the film’s participation in the Venice Film Festival, where opposition from the Roman Catholic Church Roman Catholic Church;and film censorship[film censorship] is rumored to have cost it a prize. In fact, despite its innovative filming techniques, Exstase won only one major award, a prize at the 1934 International Film Exposition in Vienna.

The film’s history in the United States was as mixed as its reception in Europe. Eureka Productions released the film as Ecstasy for the United States in 1935, where it became the first movie to be denied entry by the U.S. Customs Department under the 1930 Tarriff Act of 1930 Tarriff Act, a decision later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. customs allowed the film entry in 1937, but only after significant alterations. Hollywood censors, using the production code, however, did not give Ecstasy its blessing until 1940, so between 1937 and 1940 the film played only in art houses in such cities as Washington, D.C., Newark, Los Angeles, and Boston. Even after 1940, individual states continued to restrict screenings. Pennsylvania and New York initially refused the film altogether. Massachusetts banned Sunday showings of Ecstasy, and Maryland insisted on further cuts, significantly affecting the coherency of the film’s story line.

Ecstasy has alternately been considered as voyeuristic fluff and as a serious aesthetic representation of female sexual desire and fulfillment. The long-lasting controversy around the film’s artistic merit is fueled partly by the multiple versions created by Eureka in an attempt to appease different censors in different countries. Furthermore, copies of the original are rare, since soon after Ecstasy’s release, Lamarr married Austrian munitions magnate Fritz Mandl, who was possessive of his beautiful young wife and spent great sums (estimates range from $280,000 to millions of dollars) in an attempt to purchase and destroy all copies of the film.

More than thirty years after Ecstasy’s first release, Lamarr’s 1966 autobiography Ecstasy and Me illustrated the importance of this early film to her career. The book shares many stories about her most famous performance, claiming that the simulated orgasm scene in Ecstasy was accomplished by director Machatý poking a pin into her buttocks from under the bed. She also writes that she was tricked into doing the nude scene, and she recounts her parents’ shock and dismay when they saw the premiere of the film. The book also recounts her daring escape from Mandl and her first meeting with Louis B. Mayer, cofounder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios, with whom Lamarr negotiated her first Hollywood contract. Mayer was responsible for her name change, ostensibly in honor of the silent-film star Barbara La Marr but perhaps also because he felt that the name Kiesler was too close to the word “keister” (buttocks), a name he considered unfortunate given Lamarr’s on-screen revelation.

Impact

Ecstasy set the stage for Lamarr’s rise to prominence in Hollywood and her lifelong notoriety. Her first Hollywood role, in the critically acclaimed 1938 film Algiers, was perhaps her finest. Her next role, in Lady of the Tropics (1939), marked her as a salable commodity in Hollywood, with young women imitating the turban and pearls she wore in the film. Also in 1939, Lamarr appeared on the covers of at least nine American magazines. Throughout her career, she often played sexually aggressive women in such famous films as Boom Town (1940), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), White Cargo (1943), and Samson and Delilah (1949).

Lamarr’s career had a downturn after Samson and Delilah, and she became more notorious for off-screen happenings than for those on screen. Each of her six Marriage;Hedy Lamarr[Lamarr] marriages ended in divorce. She was involved in several well-publicized lawsuits throughout her life, including a messy (successful) custody case and a (failed) claim against the ghostwriter and publisher of Ecstasy and Me. Although she earned much money throughout her career, she ended up living with modest means and was twice accused of shoplifting. She was rehabilitated in the press and Ecstasy was released again during the 1990’s, when she was celebrated for inventing, with avant-garde composer George Antheil, an antijamming device in 1941 that became a foundation for wireless technology.

Machatý also earned an MGM contract as a result of Ecstasy’s notoriety, but he enjoyed far less success than the leading lady of the most famous film he ever directed. Although he worked in Hollywood during the 1920’s and again during the late 1930’s and 1940’s, Ecstasy was his only major commercial success. One of his innovative touches was used by Orson Welles, Orson Welles while directing Citizen Kane (film) Citizen Kane. Welles used Machatý’s technique of filming a man being reflected in several mirrors as he walks.

Ecstasy also provided a benchmark for film censorship in the United States, especially clarifying the part of Hollywood’s production code dealing with representations of sex. American film censor Joseph Breen considered Ecstasy indecent and dangerous, and his detailed reading of the film under the code resulted in several changes to future versions. For example, the code denounced the extramarital affair between Eva and Adam, and altered versions of the film took several strategies to bypass this criticism. One reveals the divorce papers of Eva and Emil before the scene in which Eva sleeps with Adam, demoting her crime from illicit affair to premarital sex. Another announces the nuptials of the young couple before the sex scene, through a diary entry, or, in one version, through an English language voice-over not matching the German of the film. These alterations demonstrate areas of moral anxiety among film censors, who saw themselves as protectors of America’s moral decency. The reception history of the film suggests that in 1930’s America, preventing representations of scandalous material as defined by the production code was more important than preserving aesthetic or narrative continuity. Czechoslovakia Lamarr, Hedy Exstase (film) Nudity;Hedy Lamarr[Lamarr]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fischer, Lucy. “Ecstasy: Female Sexual, Social, and Cinematic Scandal.” In Headline Hollywood: A Century of Film Scandal, edited by Adrienne L. McLean and David A. Cook. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2001. Examines the cultural context surrounding Ecstasy and explores the film’s representations of gender and sexuality.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hong, Peter Y. “A Starlet’s Secret Life as Inventor.” Microwave Journal 42, no. 2 (February, 1999): 70-73. Short article that provides a clear and accessible explanation of the antijamming device Lamarr helped to invent. Contains slight inaccuracies regarding dates of film releases and bans on censorship.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Horak, Jan Christopher. “High Class Whore: Hedy Lamarr’s Star Image in Hollywood.” CineAction, Spring, 2001. Article that traces Lamarr’s star image and connects it to sociopolitical values. Provides correctives to several widespread rumors about Lamarr.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lamarr, Hedy. Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman. New York: Bartholomew House, 1966. Autobiography focusing on the seamy side of the Hollywood film industry and Lamarr’s sexual exploits with men and women. May contain inaccuracies because Lamarr brought a (failed) lawsuit against the publisher and ghostwriter of this work for misrepresentation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Severo, Richard. “Hedy Lamarr, Sultry Star Who Reigned in Hollywood of 30’s and 40’s, Dies at 86.” The New York Times, January 20, 2000. Informative obituary traces Lamarr’s accomplishments as an actor and inventor and highlights the scandals with which she was associated.

Mae West’s Play About Gays Is Banned on Broadway

Surrealist Film L’Âge D’or Provokes French Rioting

Film Star Frances Farmer Is Jailed and Institutionalized

Actor Rita Hayworth Marries Aly Khan After Adulterous Affair

Swedish Film Star Ingrid Bergman Has a Child Out of Wedlock

Roman Polanski Flees the United States to Avoid Rape Trial

Film Star Hugh Grant Is Arrested for Lewd Conduct

Sexually Provocative Film The Brown Bunny Premieres at Cannes Film Festival

Categories: History Content