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TCM Imports - September 2007
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Remind Me

Ecstasy

The Czechoslovakian film Ecstasy (1933) begins on a joyful note as the beautiful, young newlywed Eva (Hedy Lamarr) is carried over the marital threshold by her far older husband Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz). But Eva's nervous anticipation is immediately dashed by her husband's prim, unromantic manner. Pulling a frumpy sleeping cap on to protect his hair, Emile fails to respond to Eva's seductive overtures. Emile's sexual neglect of his young bride eventually drives her back to her father.

But Eva's romantic dreams are reawakened when she meets a handsome young engineer Adam (Aribert Mog) while skinny-dipping. He helps her recover the horse who has trotted off with her clothes and subsequently helps Eva achieve sexual fulfillment. Disaster ensues when Emile discovers the couple's affair.

A beautifully photographed and, for 1933, unabashedly erotic drama, Ecstasy, also known as Symphony of Love is just that -- a dreamy, nearly wordless sexual reverie. Even today, Ecstasy is most notorious for 15-year-old Lamarr's scenes of nude bathing and lovemaking which the actress claimed were not in the original script, but which director Gustav Machaty sprung on the actress during shooting outside Prague. After much cajoling and tears, Lamarr finally agreed to do the scene if a camera was placed at some distance on a hilltop, though the actress was unaware that the camera was equipped with a telephoto lens. For the indoor lovemaking scenes, Lamarr's desired ecstasy was achieved via Machaty's pricking of Lamarr's buttocks with a safety pin and the enthusiastic ministrations ("his vibrations of actual sex" Lamarr called them) from costar Mog. In her autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, the actress wrote, "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."

Expected problems with censors led to more conservative regional authorities, like the Germans, demanding an alternative version in which Lamarr's nude form was hidden behind bushes.

Ecstasy had even more trouble from American censors. When the film was first imported to America in 1935 a federal marshal burned the film, the first time customs laws had been invoked to keep a film out of America. It was only after significant features of the film were altered that customs allowed the film to pass. The film's initial eyeful of Lamarr's naked body was replaced with the German version featuring Lamarr's hidden nudity. Scenes of copulating horses were removed. Any implication of an adulterous affair between Adam and Eva was removed by tacking on a "happy" conclusion in which a baby made Eva and Adam's married union clear.

However, though the film now passed customs, the Production Code Office was less forgiving and refused to grant Ecstasy its Seal of Approval. Production Code head Joseph Breen reported the film "highly--even outrageously-indecent." And many states refused to show the film. The New York State Board of Regents rejected Ecstasy calling it "indecent, immoral, and tends to corrupt youth." The censors were not so much disturbed by the nude bathing, Lamarr stated in her autobiography, but by a close-up of the "love-starved bride in the act of sexual intercourse." Distributors booked the film in Washington, Newark, Los Angeles and Boston in art theaters to get around Code disapproval.

Ecstasy caused almost as much turmoil in Lamarr's private life. The film so infuriated her new husband, business tycoon and munitions manufacturer Fritz Mandl, he ordered his staff to buy up every print of the film in existence, spending some $280,000 in the process.

Ecstasy was such a key component in Lamarr's professional identity, she entitled her autobiography Ecstasy and Me and said of the notorious film "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."

After fleeing her hometown of Vienna and her controlling husband Mandl -- who Lamarr said kept her under lock and key -- the actress had a fateful meeting in London with MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer. The MGM mogul was captivated by her beauty, but disturbed by her nudity in Ecstasy warning her, Lamarr recalled, "no more dirty movies. We make clean pictures at MGM."

Lamarr was eventually signed to MGM after shrewdly negotiating a contract that upped Mayer's initial offer of $125 a week to $500, though Mayer did add a "morality" clause in her contract, to keep the European sophisticate in her place. Lamarr waited anxiously to be cast in a film at MGM, but eventually got her lucky break outside of MGM when she met actor Charles Boyer at a party. Boyer thought she would make a perfect co-star in producer Walter Wanger's American adaptation of Pepe Le Moko (1937), to be titled Algiers (1938), Lamarr's first Hollywood film. It proved to be a smash hit and confirmed Lamarr's superstar potential at MGM.

Director: Gustav Machaty
Producer: Frantisek Horky, Moriz Grunhut
Screenplay: Gustav Machaty, Frantisek Horky, Vitezslav Nezval, Jacques A. Koerpel
Cinematography: Jan Stallich, Hans Androschin
Production Design: Bohumil Hes
Music: Giuseppe Becce
Cast: Hedy Kiesler/Lamarr (Eva), Zvonimir Rogoz (Emile), Aribert Mog (Adam), Leopold Kramer (Eva's Father).
BW-87m.

by Felicia Feaster VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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