Year: 1933

Director: Gustav Machatý

Cast: Hedy Lamarr, Aribert Mog, and Zvonimir Rogoz

It seems that critics are equally divided on this movie. One side claims that Ecstasy is a silly romp, with amateurish Freudian references and completely overrated. Others rave about its wonderful sexuality taken from the female point of view. One thing for sure, the nudity and content were scandalous for the 1930’s.

When the picture starts, Eva (Hedy Lamarr) and Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz) are about to consummate their marriage on the first night of their honeymoon. Unfortunately for a vibrant young woman of 19, her older husband is impotent. Worse yet, during the rest of their holiday he’s apathetic toward her. Eva only puts up with this boorish behavior for a few days before she flees to her parents’ house out of frustration. She unburdens herself to her father and to his credit, he understands the need for a dissolution of her marital sham. Lamarr’s character utilizes the idyllic farm country as a playground to convalesce in. She rides horseback and takes in the stimulation of flourishing plant life and wild animals. Eva is also fond of swimming in the nude. On one such occasion she makes the mistake of leaving her dress on top of her mount. When the randy horse gets a whiff of a mare in heat, he shoots across the hillside in pursuit. Eva is forced to give chase in her birthday suit. When one of the nearby laborers named Adam — played by Aribert Mog — sees the runaway horse, he runs after it. Having rundown the lusty animal, Adam begins to seek the owner. Stomping through the foliage, Eva spots the young man walking her mount so she hides in the bushes. When the laborer spots the beautiful girl in the buff, the physical attraction between the two is palpable. He teases her for a moment as if he’s deciding whether or not to give back her clothing. After a time, he tosses the dress to her while she’s still behind the bushes. She leaves in mock disgust but it is clear that the laborer has made an impression.

At this point, the abandoned bourgeois groom is distressed. Whether it’s the humiliation for a man with his social standing or genuine regret motivating him, Emile calls his bride and requests a meeting. She agrees to receive the anxious gentleman at her father’s home. Whatever hope Emile had for a reconciliation is quickly vanquished when our protagonist lays into him with warranted gusto. Having detailed his many transgressions, she demands an immediate divorce. A defeated Emile sees the fruitlessness of his pleas and acquiesces to her wishes. On one stormy night, Eva is restless and on edge. She repeatedly looks out the window and it becomes apparent that the young woman is turned on. With each lightning bolt getting her worked up even more, Lamarr’s character leaps from the living room and scampers into the darkness. When she arrives at Adam’s cabin soaking wet and heaving with passion and lust, he is pleasantly surprised. The two young lovers become inseparable and it is not long before they are married and with child. What becomes of Emile? His fate seems to have been sealed once he failed to deliver the goods that first night.

I can see how some contemporary viewers might think Ecstasy is corny. Some of the phallic symbols do get a little ridiculous. But I try to assess older films in the context of their environment. Even by pre-code standards full frontal nudity and the portrayal of a female orgasm are unheard of for 1933. And this is Hedy Lamarr, people. Without a doubt she is in my top 10 Hollywood babes list. In this picture you can see the foundation for the great beauty to come in her 20’s and 30’s. Machatý does a masterful job of capturing Lamarr’s stunning visage in several memorable closeups. Though this picture has sound, the director chose to shoot it like a silent movie with very sparse dialogue. This approach works well as the images do all the necessary talking. Is Ecstasy a great film? No. But it contains some memorable moments as well as the landmark debut of a truly gifted female artist.

By James White