Matchup of the Day: Come Live with Me vs. The Heavenly Body
February 11 is Inventor’s Day in the United States. Hedy Lamarr, in addition to her acting work, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Lamarr was often praised for her beauty, but didn’t necessarily view that as a positive, saying “Any girl can be glamorous; all you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” According to Wikipedia, Lamarr turned to inventing because it was more stimulating than the lightweight acting roles she was offered that focused on her looks. This Famous Woman Inventors article explains that Lamarr’s role in the invention of spread spectrum technology helped form “the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines and other wireless operations possible”. Not being very familiar with Lamarr’s filmography, I randomly chose two of her movies – Come Live with Me and The Heavenly Body – to view for today’s matchup. Unfortunately, they are probably good examples of the types of roles Lamarr found stifling.
Come Live with Me stars Lamarr as the mistress of well-to-do book publisher. He is involved in an open marriage with his wife, who goes along with his extramarital activities showing remarkable composure. Complications arise when Lamarr, an Austrian immigrant, is faced with deportation after her passport expires. Returning to her home country is highly unfavorable since she left to escape the Nazi occupation. A concerned immigration officer suggests that she get married in order to secure her U.S. citizenship. She runs into a struggling writer, played by James Stewart, and talks him into marrying her as a purely business arrangement. Lamarr continues to carry on the affair with the book publisher without telling him how she managed to stay in the country.
Stewart gradually grows attached to Lamarr, even though he has limited contact with her, and starts writing a novel based on their relationship. A copy of the unfinished manuscript ends up in the hands of the book publisher’s wife. Earlier in the film it is shown that she is the one who reads the manuscripts received by her husband and strongly influences what he chooses to publish. She endorses Stewart’s book, initially unaware that it’s about her husband’s mistress. When he reads it he quickly picks up on the similarities between Lamarr and the circumstances in the story. He calls in Stewart to question him about his inspiration for the novel, which Stewart insists is entirely made up. The publisher’s wife puts two and two together when he reacts too personally to Stewart’s intention of ending the novel with the woman staying married to the writer. She convinces her husband to give Stewart an advance so he can complete the novel, knowing that he intends to divorce her to run off with Lemarr.
Stewart, emboldened by his success, fully intends to keep Lemarr as his wife. She wants to divorce Stewart and marry the book publisher. He refuses to end the marriage, reasoning that they should know each other better before they get divorced. So, he talks Lamarr into going on a trip to his family farm before he’ll agree to legally part with her. It’s not long before she falls in love with Stewart and his traditional country boy ways. She chooses to continue the marriage. What becomes of the relationship between the book publisher and his wife is never made clear.
The Heavenly Body was a bit rough to get through. This time, Lemarr is the astrology-obsessed wife of an astronomy professor, who isn’t as attentive as he could be. She bases her whole life around the dictates of the stars, including the hiring and firing of multiple housekeepers. Her husband, played by William Powell, naturally doesn’t approve. Trouble really starts to brew when Lemarr’s astrologer predicts that she will be swept off her feet by a man more suited to her romantic needs. She soon meets a handsome world traveler and intends to leave Powell for her predestined new love. Hijinks ensue.
Maintaining interest became rocky at that point. I’m sure there are more rewarding Hedy Lemarr movies that better utilize her acting talents. These two movies just aren’t them.