Ecstasy (1933)

Ecstasy (1933)

Hedy Lamarr was the most beautiful woman ever to grace Hollywood.  It didn’t matter that she wasn’t Hollywood’s greatest actress because when she was on the screen, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.  Not only though was she a great beauty, but she was also highly intelligent and came up with one particular invention that not only assisted the allies in WWII to confound the enemy, but it also was the stepping stone for what today we cannot live without—wifi.  Her brilliant idea was called “frequency hopping”.  It was used as a secret wartime communication system that would keep the enemy from interfering with a ship’s torpedoes.  It worked by way of jumping around on radio frequencies in order to avoid the Nazis from jamming the Navy’s signal, thus enabling them to successfully attack enemy ships and submarines.

Ecstasy was Hedy’s fifth European film, and it was the one that launched her into stardom.  The main reason for this is because of the subject matter.  There is a scene where Hedy is nude and a second scene where she emotes sexual ecstasy, hence the title.  Hedy wasn’t the first leading lady to appear nude in a film.  That first is credited to the silent screen actress Audrey Munson, who disrobed for the 1915 melodrama Inspiration.  Munson, a former well-known artist’s model, made a career out of taking her clothes off in the movies.  At the age of 39, after being linked to a famous murder trial which destroyed her career, she was admitted to a psychiatric institution and died there at the age of 105.  Also, the Australian swimmer-actress Annette Kellerman, who the 1952 movie Million Dollar Mermaid with Esther Williams was based on, also appeared nude in Hollywood’s first million-dollar picture, the 1916 A Daughter of the Gods.  Nudity was frequently glimpsed in innumerable American and European films during the 1920s, including MGM’s 1925 multimillion-dollar epic Ben-Hur with Ramon Novarro, which included an extended scene in two-strip Technicolor of bare-breasted women and in black and white the lingering view of the backside of a naked male galley slave.*  These are just a few examples.  But I digress.

Hedy was 17 years old when she made Ecstasy and once she was famous, Hollywood came a-calling.  Her next film was with Charles Boyer in ALGIERS.  She played with Jimmy Stewart in two 1941 films, COME LIVE WITH ME, a charming love story where Hedy is a refugee from war-torn Europe, following with ZIEGFELD GIRL which also starred Lana Turner and Judy Garland.  Still, as lovely as those two young starlets were, and better actresses, when Hedy is on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off of her.  She was actually rather strange in the 1946 film THE STRANGE WOMAN, and not only because of who the character she played, Jenny Hager was, but also due to casting American Jo Ann Marlowe as Lamarr’s younger self so that when she grew up, Jenny suddenly developed an accent.  Possibly, she is most well known as Delilah in DeMille’s Technicolor Samson and Delilah, alongside Victor Mature.  It’s been years since I’ve seen the film, but it left me with the impression that it wasn’t a particularly good movie and that Hedy wasn’t convincing enough to lead me to believe she could behave as badly as the vengeful Delilah did.

However, if you are intrigued after seeing tonight’s film, and if you haven’t already had a chance to catch it in the theatres, it’s worth seeing BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY.  It’s available, of course, on DVD by Kino Lorber and when I last looked was being carried by Netflix.

*Soured from Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr by Stephen Michael Shearer (2010)


Production Company: Elektafilm.  Directed by Gustav Machatý.  Produced by Moriz Grunhut, Frantisek Horký and Otto Sonnenfeld.  Based on the book by Robert Horky.  Screenplay by Frantisek Horký and Gustav Machatý.  Cinematography by Hans Androschin, Gerhard Huttula and Jan Stallich.  Film Editing by Antonín Zelenka.  Art Direction by Bohumil Hes.  Music Department: Walter Kiesow, Hedy Knorr, Franz Schimak.  Released:  January 20, 1933.  82 minutes.

Hedy Lamarr………………………….…………………. Eva Ermann
Aribert Mog……………………………………………………….. Adam
Zvonimir Rogoz…………………………………………………….. Emil
Leopold Kramer………………………………………….. Eva’s Father
Emil Jerman……………………………………. Eva’s husband (voice)
Jirina Steimarová………………………………………………….. Typist
Bedrich Vrbský…………………………………….. Eva’s father (voice)
Jirina Stepnicková…………………………………………. Eva (voice)

Feminine Forever, the title of Dr. Robert Wilson’s best seller, could be my motto: I am a woman, above everything.  Let me start by saying that in my life, as in the lives of most women, sex has been an important factor.

At times, it has worked against me.  When I was born, the name George had been all ready.  The doctor made haste to assure my father that I was at least healthy: “She is fine, but she has no nose at all.  Only two holes in a round face.”

They called me an ugly duckling as a teenager.  “She just comes up like a weed,” as mother more lovingly put it.

Fifteen years later, while plastic surgeons were being annoyed by women who wanted a “Hedy Lamarr nose,” and Hollywood was promoting me as a goddess, I was still suffering about those earlier nicknames, on the analyst’s couch.

At times, sex has been a disruptive factor.  The men in my life have ranged from a classic case-history of impotence, to a whip-brandishing sadist who enjoyed sex only after he tied my arms behind me with the sash of his robe.  There was another man who took his pleasure with a girl in my own bed, while he thought I was asleep in it!

Well, the ugly duckling, the weed, the marble goddess had known all along she was sexy.  And now she knew what to do about it.  I was absolutely determined to become a big star.

Do you know what it is to be a big star?  Truly a big star?  I doubt that any actress has yet exposed her inner feelings about this exalted state.  Let me tell you in a few words.

To be a star is to own the world and all the people in it.  A star can have anything; if there’s something she can’t buy, there’s always a man to give it to her.  (Does this shock you?  Well, I have no use for hypocrisy.)  Everybody adores a star.  Strangers fight just to approach her.  After a taste of stardom, everything else is poverty.

One of my recent evenings while your star was sitting home alone suffering from her root-canal work and brooding about her treatment at the police station because of an incident in a department store over some minor articles of clothing, and being replaced by Zsa Zsa Gabor in a Joe Levine motion picture (imagine how that pleases the ego!) I figured out that I had made—and spent—some thirty million dollars.

Yet earlier that day I had to charge a sandwich at Schwab’s drug store.  And to top that, when my daughter Denise married Larry Colton, the baseball player, I used trading stamps to buy them a wedding present.

So maybe you would like to hear a real story, for a change.  How it really was with the ugly duckling who became the last product of Hollywood’s unbelievable pre-war star system.  After ten painful years, I have finally set the story down.  That’s what Ecstasy and Me is all about.

It was in Vienna, November 9th, 1915, that plump little Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born.  There, howling on a blanket, was your future movie star.

My father Emil and my mother Gertrude smothered me with love.  “Trudi” gave up a career as concert pianist to mother me.  My father, though a busy director of the Bank of Vienna, found hours to sit with me before the library fire and tell fairy stories.  Later he took long walks with me not only in Vienna, but in the English countryside, the Irish lake districts, the Swiss Alps, and the Paris boulevards.

I was an only child, and everybody started calling me little Princess Hedy (to be proper, rhyme it with lady).  Nixy, as I called Nicolette, taught me several European languages.  There were less welcome ballet lessons, piano lessons, and private tutors at the otherwise happy household on Peter Jordan Street.  Later, there were the best private schools in Vienna.

Well, the little princess didn’t take to her studies very well.  Even the social life was not all it was supposed to be.  Imagine, dancing with girls!  I am afraid that my mother had more than one call from the teacher.  And, on several occasions, I ran away.

By 1929, I as spending my pocket money “escaping” into the world of make-believe offered by the movie magazines.  I began to think about becoming an actress.  I was still in a Viennese finishing school—but studying design.

So it was not entirely by chance that I crashed Sascha Film Studios.  I passed it every day going to school.  Finally I “doctored” a late-permission slip from my mother, and took the whole day off.  Once inside, I kept my ears open.  As luck would have it, I overheard director Alexis Granowsky discuss the casting of a bit part in Storm in a Water Glass (Sturme Ein Waser Glase.)  I think you can guess what happened.  I applied for a reading—and was terrible.  Only, Granowsky felt that I had just enough potential to be coached into this bit part in the silent film, for the sake of “development.”

It meant persuading my parents.  They were much more difficult to persuade than Granowsky, because it meant my dropping school.  But at last they agreed.  My father had never forbidden his little princess anything, and besides, he reasoned that I would soon enough quit my own accord and go back to school.

Nevertheless, his reasoning was wrong, for once.  After Storm in a Water Glass was completed, Sascha began to think about sound, to keep up with the industry.

Their next property, One Doesn’t Need Money (Mein Braucht Kein Geld), was scheduled for silent and also sound production.  But equipment was expensive.  So the director, Carl Boese, showed a canny knack for financing, if not for casting, when he gave me the ingenue role.  In the film, I was the daughter of a mayor, but in real life I was after all the daughter of a bank director…and Boese knew this would impress Sascha’s backers.  (The film was shown in the United States, and thus in 1932 a movie reviewer for The New York Times had the opportunity to discover the mediocre acting ability but good looks of the young Hedy Kiesler.)

The next step was persuading my parents to let me study in Berlin.  And so it was that I sneaked one day into a rehearsal of Max Reinhardt’s dramatic school.  It was young Otto Preminger himself who let me in.  As soon as Reinhardt spotted his audience of one, everything stopped.  He gruffly demanded what I was doing there.

I swallowed.  “I just wanted to watch a rehearsal.  I watched one in Salzburg, and I watched The Dying Swan, and I would like to see you direct, if you don’t mind.”

Well, he really wasn’t so gruff.  He noticed the semi-professional quality of my voice…and by now I was definitely out of the ugly duckling stage.

In fact, it was he who asked me if I could act, and when I said yes, it turned out he had a little part in The Weaker Sex.

He wasn’t disappointed.  My stage notices were better than those movie reviews, and a second role followed, in Private Lives.  It was because these men believed in me, you see, that I continued to develop.  Reinhardt made me read, meet people, and attend plays.

And now Alexis Granowsky re-entered the picture, with a role in his Allianz production, The Trunks of Mr. O.F. (Die Koffer Des Herr O.F. Herne) and this time I learned something about light comic acting.  Afterwards, I was ready for a tour.

Already these early years were committing me to a career in show business.  I shall continue the chronology of it later.  Now I must “cut” to the year 1936.  AT twenty-one, I am in Berlin awaiting news of the Elektra Films production of my fourth motion picture—and first starring role—Ecstasy.

A German newspaper broke the story this way: “In the United States, the New York State Board of Regents censorship committee has rejected the application to show Ecstasy on the grounds that it is indecent, immoral, and tends to corrupt youth.”  (The ban lasted until 1940.)  The primary objection was not the nude swimming scene, which you have no doubt heard so much about, or the sequence of my fanny twinkling through the woods, but the close-up of my face, in that cabin sequence where the camera records the reactions of a love-starved bride in the act of sexual intercourse: “That portion of the film beginning with the engineer placing the girl on the couch and ending with the girl caressing his head as he sits on the floor beside the couch,” as described by the Commissioner of Customs, who actually quoted the Tariff Act of 1930 in his report!

This had started when Eureka imported Ecstasy to the United States in November 1934.  First, the Treasury Department had its own committee judge the film and they judged it “obscene” in January 1935.  Then the Collector of Customs in New York got into the act, and in July 1935 the U.S. Marshal actually destroyed the print.

Eureka produced a second print and took its case to the Circuit Court of Appeals.  There, the famous Judge Learned Hand decided “I saw nothing in any sense immoral…”  So in December, the United States government approved the entry of Ecstasy into its movie house.

But New York and other states continued to oppose showings, and over the next twenty years only about four hundred houses in all actually dared to show Ecstasy.

Now, what about the original filming of the motion picture?

This, finally, deserves a full telling.

Remember, I was seventeen.  Gustav de Machaty, a respected film maker, had come to me with the script of Symphony of Love (Symphonie Der Liebe).  It was a harmless little sex-romp about a sweet young thing who marries an old man (named Emil, like my father, and played by Zvonimir Rogoz) unable to consummate the marriage on the wedding night.  And so she runs home to mama.  One day, while swimming nude, our Eve is spied by a handsome young engineer named Adam (played by Aribert Mog).

There is quite a bit of symbolism in this movie.  Even’s clothes are tied to the saddle of her stallion, which bolts.  Adam gives chase.  Thus in a spring shower, Adam and Even take shelter in his cabin…

Well, there was no reason for me to be apprehensive about the movie.  I had no idea of the humiliation it would cause me…or that it would catapult me out of my Middle-European circle into world fame.  Or the part it would play in my marriage with one of the world’s richest men, Fritz Mandl.

I agreed to do the movie.

When I agreed to do the picture, there were no nude scenes, and no intercourse close-ups.  (Naïve sixteen!  As I grew older, I learned how to make better deals for myself.)

The original script was a five-page affair, with hardly any dialogue.  We were shooting (as it would be called today) “off-the-cuff,” in a forest lake outside Prague, when I balked at the nude scene.

“Where is it in the script?”

The director shouted, “If you do not do this scene, the picture will be ruined, and we will collect our losses from you!”  (Losses!  I had a small salary, no percentage of anything, and never made a dime from the backers.)  To emphasize his masterfulness, he picked up a small block of wood, and threw it in my general direction.  (It struck a young grip.)

“I won’t.  I won’t take off my clothes!”  I was thinking of my parents…not to mention the crew we were shooting with, and the public, later on.  Impossible!

At this point, my hairdresser put her arms around my shoulder and said, “I’ll talk to him, don’t cry.”  (She was an attractive woman, and obviously had some influence with him.)

They went into a huddle.  There was much waving of arms, and, at length, a compromise.

“The cameras will go up on that hill.”  He pointed to a rise about fifty yards away.  “You will run through the trees and into the water, and just swim out a way.”  I started to argue but he stopped me.  “The cameras will be so far off it will be just an impression, a mood.”

As I stood there silently, I saw everybody else waiting quite calmly for my decision.  Was I being unnecessarily stubborn?  Perhaps the compromise was reasonable.  I made a few counter-requests.

“You take the cameras and everyone else up to the top of the hill first.  I’ll undress behind a tree and give a signal before running.”

The director smiled.  “That will be agreeable.  We do it.”  He beckoned to the crew, and the exodus started.

I remember it was windy but warm, and the breeze was refreshing on my body as I undressed gingerly behind the broadest tree I could find.  The cast and crew were small figures at the top of the hill.  I looked for stragglers.  Then I gave my signal…and the director gave his.  (He actually fired off a gun for this one!)

One deep breath, and I ran zigzagging from tree to tree and into the lake.  My only thought was “I hope they get the splash.”

After a few strokes in the cool water, I stopped swimming, put down my feet, and bent my knees so that only my head showed.  Somebody with a hand megaphone was shouting, “Once more…once more.”  The order echoed down the slope a few times.

I wanted to refuse, but there was no turning back now.  Shivering, I scooted back to the first tree.  Mysteriously, somebody had put a terry cloth robe there.  I dried off, and waited for the damned gun.  It had jammed!  After a moment, the megaphone voice shouted, “Go!”  Again I zigzagged, probably breaking all speed records, again I swam a bit, and then stuck my head up.

“Goot,” was the judgment.  “Vonderful”

What a relief…for then.  (In time, I’ll tell you about the preview that I saw…with my parents…)

About that other torrid love scene.  This, we shot indoors.

I was told to lie down with my hands above my head while Aribert Mog whispered in my ear, and then kissed me in the most uninhibited fashion.  I was not sure what my reactions would be, so when Aribert slipped down and out of camera, I just closed my eyes.

“Nein, nein,” the director yelled.  “A passionate expression on the face.”  He threw his hands up and slapped them against his sides.  He mumbled about the stupidity of youth.  He looked around and found a safety pin on a table.  He picked it up, bent it almost straight, and approached.  “You will lie here,” he said.  “I will be underneath, out of camera range.  When I prick you a little on your backside, you will bring your elbows together and you will react!”

I shrugged.  Aribert took his place over me, and the scene began again.  Aribert slipped down out of range on one side.  From down out of range on the other side, the director jabbed that pin into my buttockes “a little” and I reacted!

“Nein, nein.”  I had reacted in the wrong way.  “Elbows!” he yelled.

So, several takes and jabs later, we were getting nowhere.  And now I shall quote an article by Gene Youngblood, staff writer for the Los Angels Herald-Examiner, that appeared in the issue of January 28th, 1966.

More than 250,000 feet was cut from Ecstasy before its release.  These were love scenes reportedly so “sizzling” that producer Josef Auerback called them “too sexy” and ordered them burned.  “The love scenes were real,” Auerback said in a 1952 interview, “since Hedy was engaged to her leading man at the time.”

Thus de Machatỳ and his pin.  Thus Hedy Keisler and her reactions.  Thus Aribert Mog and his fiancée.

So now, I shall tell you how it was.  Some of those pinpricks shot pain through my body until it was vibrating in every nerve.  I remember one shot when the close-up camera caught my face in a distortion of real agony…and the director yelled happily, “Ya, goot!”

Then again, Aribert had what would be called today “Actors Studio” realism.  I do not deny that there were other shots when his vibrations of actual sex proved highly contagious…and I ended up “winging it,” too…

But I have long resented Auerback’s cheap comments, as they show a complete ignorance of the creative process.

As I explained, there have been many versions of Ecstasy.  These include revivals both illegitimate and “legitimate” (including the use of clips in the United Artists 1964 feature The Love Goddesses).  And there is continued talk about a new version.  If you have ever seen Ecstasy, I can only say that in the close-up section, you may have seen me agonizing over pinpricks!  And I have seen that section once myself in which the emotion on my face was pure exhaustion.  Because there were takes when I just had nothing left, and could hardly focus my eyes.  Maybe Auerback discovered a new production technique!

In any case, something showed on the screen only too realistically, and so we come back to the preview.

By now, my parents were proud of me.  Their little princess was areal movie star.  We were in the best seats, and I was earing a gown made for the occasion.  The film began, and “the” scenes approached.

“It’s artistic,” I whispered to my parents nervously.

It didn’t take me long to size up de Machaty’s artistry.  I could see right away that the forest was just too close!  The next moment, I was running nude through the trees.  Good lord, the camera was no more than twenty feet away!  I felt my face turning crimson.

Remember, this was Europe over thirty years ago, not today’s American “in” group.

The swimming scene was quick, but not quick enough.  The trick was obvious: They had used a telescopic lens.  As I sat there, I wanted to kill the director.  Then, I wanted to run and hide.

My father soled the predicament.  He simply rose, and said grimly, “We will go.”  I gathered my belongings in one grab.  My mother seemed angry, but somehow reluctant to walk out.  Nevertheless, walk out we did.

I was practically babbling about the telescopic lens.  My father was talking furiously about indecent exposure.  I was never to act in another picture.  (Believe me, at that moment, I had no intention of doing so.)

It was a week before I dared to leave the house.

And this, then, was the film that Fritz Mandl was becoming maniacal about, in his turn.  He would sit in the projection room and watch the nude scenes again and again.  I need not add that my career stood still throughout the marriage to Mandl.  I dared not go near a camera, or even accept any offers for the future.

I could sense what was driving Mandl.  In his plush conference room, he was a veritable king.  He directed the future directors of Europe.  Everybody knew that war would soon make him tent imes richer than he was.

Yet with all his power, and all his wealth, the drive to wipe out Ecstasy ended in failure.

Excerpts from Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman by Hedy Lamarr (1966)

The respected thirty-two-year-old film director Gustav Machaỳ wrote the screenplay for Extaze (Symphonie der Liebe), as it was titled for German release.  Its plot is simple.  A young woman, Eva (Hedy), has married Emil Jerman (Zvonimir Rogoz), a wealthy, much older man who is set in his ways.  Their wedding night at his luxurious Prague apartment is not consummated, and Emil’s physical disinterest in his young wife leaves her frustrated and heartbroken.  She returns to the country estate of her father (Leopold Kramer) to request his help in seeking a divorce.  One afternoon, she mounts her horse and rides to a secluded pond, where she impulsively takes a swim au naturel.  Her horse runs off with her clothing and catches the eye of a road construction manager, Adam (Aribert Mog), who chases the animal, only to discover the nude Eva cowering in the foliage.  Adam is all that Emil is not—young, virile and strong, sensitive and gentle.

Eva pursues Adam to his cottage in the woods one evening.  It storms that night, and, confined to his cottage, Eva becomes his lover.  Eva learns what true passion and love are about.  Emil comes to Eva’s father to plead his cause, but to no avail.  Eva confronts her husband.

“What more do you want from me?” Eva asks Emil.

“You,” he replies.

“It’s too late,” she tells him.

While returning by car to Prague, Emil picks up Adam on the road and gives him a ride to the city.  Emil soon realizes that Adam is Eva’s lover but says nothing to the younger man as they check into an inn for the evening.  Eva comes again to Adam at the inn.  Upstairs in his room, Emil commits suicide as the couple, unaware, dance to music below.

Eva knows that her actions are to blame for her husband’s death.  As the two lovers wait at a train station, Adam falls asleep, and Eva realizes she must leave him.  Adam returns to his job and envisions his lost love, Eva, with a baby.

Because of its erotic story line, written with very limited dialogue, and its dramatic photography, Extaze has become a historically important Czech film.  Its mature central theme was considered daring in its day but not shocking in its execution.

Hedy was not the first actress to be considered for the role of Eva.  According to the Mexican film star Lupita Tovar, it was she who was offered the role of Eva first.  Tovar, who starred in the 1931 Spanish-language version of Dracula filmed at Universal Studios, was known as Mexico’s Sweetheart.  Engaged to Paul Kohner, who in 1932 was a foreign sales agent for Universal in Berlin, she had to turn the part down when he read that Lupita was required to appear nude in one scene.  Machatỳ then at some point offered the role to Hedy, and she agreed to do the picture.

“After we were married we went to Prague to visit the set,” Tovar recalled.  “And I remember Hedy Kiesler playing the piano [for a scene]….  She was very shy.”  Hedy’s shyness may have been a result of the pending nude scene.

The brief nude sequence apparently caused no concern for her at the time, since she later wrote, “There was no reason for me to be apprehensive about the movie.”  But there also would be another scene that did not call for nudity but was very graphic and sensual, in which Adam makes love to Eva, which Hedy may have been anxious about.  By the time both of these sequences were filmed, Hedy was involved with her leading man, Aribert Mog, the same young German film actor who had fallen in love with her during the filming of Die Koffer des Herrn O.F.

At Twenty-seven years of age, the handsome, masculine, Teutonic (and as “Aryan” as Nature could allow) Aribert Mog had become somewhat of a matinee idol, displaying a passable amount of talent with an abundance of brawny sex appeal.  It was not unthinkable that Hedy would be attracted to him, though their affair barely lasted the duration of the filming.

Mog’s most important work would come in 1936 in the classic German film Fährmann Maria (Ferryman Maria), which starred Sybille Schmitz.  As a soldier in the Nazi services during World War II, Mog would tragically be killed on October 2, 1941, while in action in Nova Trojanova, then the Soviet Union, during the early days of Germany’s war against Russia.

The scenes of Eva swimming au naturel in the pond, running nude through the woods when her horse takes off, and being discovered by Adam were filmed without event.  Hedy later wrote, “I remember it was windy but warm, and the breeze was refreshing on my body as I undressed gingerly behind the broadest tree I could find.  Then I gave my signal…and the director gave his…One deep breath, and I ran zigzagging from tree to tree and into the lake.  My only thought was ‘I hope they get the splash.’”

Later, when she came to the United States in 1937, Hedy would deny her willing participation in filming, saying that she was unaware of the nude scenes when she signed the contract.  Another writer, however, put it more clearly: “She was ambitious and reasoned that if the picture was well received her career would be made.”  Certainly, she knew the scenes were in the script.  According to film-genre writer Jan Christopher Horak, quoting the film’s cinematographer: “Cameraman Jan Stallich substantiates her eagerness to please; ‘As the star of the picture, she knew she would have to appear naked in some scenes.  She never made a fuss about it during production.’

Hedy later wrote that she argued with Machatỳ about the inclusion of the nude scene but that he threatened her into submission.  Taking a different tack, she also said that because of her naïveté and youth, she did the swim and the run au naturel but with the understanding that the photographer would be positioned far away and would be using a zoom lens only for her close-up shot after she took cover.

When Extaze is viewed today in its most restored version, it is obvious that Hedy was relaxed and quite aware of where the camera was at all times.  Her excuses explaining away her youthful “impropriety” made good copy when she arrived in America.  But they simply were not true.  She would not have disagreed with Machatỳ.  He was much too important a director at the time.  (Later, in Hollywood, they were great friends.)  Add this to the fact that the scenes were shot repeatedly and actor Mog was used in them and that there were several close-ups and stills made between takes.

The cinema historian Patrick Robertson wrote in Film Facts in 2001, “Curiously, Ecstasy is celebrated as the first motion picture containing a nude scene, which it is not, rather than the first to show sexual intercourse, which it was.”  And it is that one scene in the film that created the most controversy.  When Eva comes to Adam’s cottage in the woods, it is storming outside, and they make love for the first time.  Symbolism permeates throughout the scene.  The photography is stylized and romantic.  As Eva succumbs to Adam’s lustful charms, she lays back on his bed, her string of pearls breaking and falling to the floor.  In angled close-ups of her ecstatic face, Eva experiences the first deep, satisfying waves of sexual fulfillment.

“I was told to lie down with my hands above my head while Aribert Mog whispered in my ear and then kissed me in the most uninhibited fashion,” Hedy wrote.  “When Aribert slipped down and out of camera, I just closed my eyes.”  According to Hedy, as soon as Mog made his move, symbolizing his making love to her, Machatỳ stuck a safety pin repeatedly into her buttocks to achieve the close-up facial expressions the cinematographer captured.

It was reported in the press in 1966 that the film studio producer Josef Auerbach ordered more than 25,000 feet of the love scene in Extaze cut and burned before the picture was released.  He considered those scenes “too sexy” and sizzling.  “The love scenes were real,” Auerbach said in 1952, “since Hedy was engaged to the leading man at the time.”

Hedy took offense at this remark and refuted Auerbach in later years.  She did, however, concede about her sensually handsome leading man: “Aribert had what would be called today ‘Actor Studio’ realism.  I do not deny that there were other sots when his vibrations of actual sex proved highly contagious…and I ended up ‘winging it’ too.

Extaze was released in Europe by Slavia Films.  The running time for most copes is approximately eight-five minutes, depending on the edited version.  However, there was also a French-language version shot simultaneously, with some scenes employing different actors.  The French version, which is known to have also included an extended, longer tracking shot of Hedy’s nude run, was called Extase in France and premiered in Paris on March 28, 1933.  It ran ninety-five minutes in length, nearly ten minutes longer than today’s definitive, restored print, indicating possibly additional scenes.  (The original negative of the film was destroyed when the Russians invaded Budapest, Hungary, in 1956, according to Hedy.)

For the more conservative German censors, the nude scenes were alternately filmed with strategically placed bushes and trees shadowing Hedy’s body.  Cuts were made in part because of Hedy’s Jewish heritage.  (The German version of the film was banned for over wo years.)

By the time production was completed on Extaze at the end of the summer of 1932, Hedy’s affair with Aribert Mog had quietly run its course.  With no new romance on the horizon, she returned to Vienna.  Apparently, possibly realizing that in Extaze she was a bit heavy, Hedy may have repeated her earlier dieting regime, though not with the same stimulant.  In the fall of 1932, she became seriously ill once again, resulting in a drastic weight loss and the decline of her health.  In a newspaper interview in early 1933, she told the reporter that after she completed Extaze, “I became really ill with an intestinal infection….”  Whatever the illness, it left her reed thin.

…on January 20, Extaze had made its world premiere in Prague.  It was immediately hailed a masterpiece, with much praise for its cinematography and orchestral musical score.  “By now my parents were proud of me,” Hedy would write.  “Their little princess was a real movie star.”  They had not, however, seen the picture yet.  Hedy prepared her parents for the Vienna premiere, scheduled for the following month, by telling them that Extaze was an “artistic” film.

On February 14, 1933, Extaze opened in Vienna.  Emil and Trude were excited at the prospect of seeing their daughter starring in a major motion picture.  After the stage show, Hedy remembered sitting in the dark with them, eagerly anticipating her first scene in the picture.  “The film began, and ‘the’ scenes approached,” Hedy wrote later.  “’It’s artistic,’ I whispered to my parents nervously….  The next moment I was running nude through the trees….  The swimming scene was quick, but not quick enough….  I wanted to run and hide.  My father solved the predicament.  He simply rose, and said grimly, ‘We will go.’  I gathered my belongings in one grab.  My mother seemed angry, but somehow reluctant to walk out.  Nevertheless, walk out we did.”

Emil was shocked that his daughter would indecently expose herself and disgrace the family in such a manner.  “I had a very strict upbringing,” Hedy said.  Hedy wrote that she was so embarrassed and humiliated by her parents’ reaction that she stayed in her room for a week.  She promised them that she would never work in films again.

The rest of the European general public, however, took little offense at the two controversial sequences.  On Mar 12, Extaze opened at the Tivoli Theatre in London.  The reviewer in The Times focused on the elements of the film: “Ekstase…sets out to make the most of musical accompaniment and cut down the use of speech to a minimum….  Some of the photography, however, is beautiful in its feeling for air and sunlight, and Haidee Tiesler (sic) gives a sensitive and imaginative performance as a wife who is denied life by her husband and seeks it at the hands of a young man who is everything her husband is not.”

There was no mention of the two “scandalous” scenes in the review.  When the picture in its most complete form opened in France, critics and audiences alike hailed it a classic.  Extaze would only become notorious later in the year, when Germany censored it primarily because many of the film’s participants were Jewish.  The film was, however, publicly condemned in the L’osservatore romano by Pope Pius XI, who called it indecent, and it was denied presentation in the United States.  Not surprisingly, Extaze was considered a masterpiece in Czechoslovakia upon its release there.  It would win the Prague State Prize for Excellence in 1934, as well as attract the largest crowd and second prize (losing the prized Mussolini Cup to Man of Aran, a documentary) on August 2, 1934, at the Venice Film Festival, where Gustav Machatỳ was nominated best director.

Viewed today, Extaze is a beautifully produced motion picture.  Prominent among its many cinematic virtues is its key element—the almost total lack of dialogue.  A sweeping musical score by Giuseppe Becca, set designs by Bohumil Hes and Stepan Kopecky, framed by the magnificent photography of Jan Stallich and Hans Androschin—all contribute in making Extaze an impressively important film.

In the picture, Hedy is mesmerizing to watch.  Her scenes with Aribert Mog are kinetic and sensual.  Fraught with symbolism throughout, Extaze does not deserve the crude attention or the lingering notoriety it later generated when finally released in the United States.  Publicity bordering on slander could not prevent the critics even then from recognizing the minor gem Extaze truly is or the respectable performance given by its feminine star.  But conservative tastes, including those of Hedy’s parents, condemned the picture from the start.

Excerpts from Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr by Stephen Michael Shearer (2010)

Blogs written by other film enthusiasts:

The Eye on the Screen, July 10, 2008
Scientific American, January 9, 2012
Magazine, August 14, 2013
The Untold Stories, September 21, 2015
Cinema Smear: Independent Film & Video Today, October 18, 2017
24 Frames of Silver: A Cinema Blog for Soul, March 12, 2018
The Times of Israel, June 2, 2018
Wonders in the Dark, June 5, 2018

To view the film, click on image below: 

Joining me for the evening were Andrea, Betsy, Georgea and Jillian.

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