When I think of the action/adventure/romantic film They Met in Bombay, besides the beautiful Adrian costumes that Rosalind Russell wears, I think of a story that occurred during the shooting. One morning while driving to work, Roz, who thought she was a most competent driver but really wasn’t, once again got herself into trouble for reckless driving.
This time, she was taking her usual route, but drove smack into a tree. While most of the damage was sustained by her car, Roz left the scene with big, fat lip. She still had to film that day, so they filmed wide shots of the scene where her character Anya runs from her car up to the gate to talk to Clark Gable’s Gerald Meldrick. Every time I see that scene, I think… I wonder if any of these shots include her fat lip… from a distance? And I have come across more than one newspaper snippet involving Roz in an accident for her crazy driving. It’s just who Roz was and we love her for it anyway.
They Met in Bombay, although chock full of cute romantic kisses that make me go all jelly inside and full of absolutely stunning Adrian gowns, is certainly not one of my favorites. This is partly due to my distaste for action/adventure films. I have never been a fan of them and for me to really love them, they have to be damn good.
We all have different tastes and my tastes tend to favor comedies, sometimes tearjerkers, sometimes musicals, but action films and westerns are not my thing. So for these reasons, I prefer the first half of the film to the second half.
Clark Gable plays a jewel thief named Gerald Meldrick. For his next great caper, he plans to steal the coveted Star of Asia, which is owned by the Duchess of Beltravers. She plans on attending the ball being held in Bombay in order to make his plan happen.
When he arrives at the hotel, he poses as a detective in charge of taking care of the Duchess’s jewels, even handing management a letter confirming it. They decide to trust him and he eyes the safe where the jewels are kept. In the lobby, he gazes upon a beautiful woman strolling to the front desk, her head held high as if she knows exactly what she wants. He wants to meet her and get to know her.
Her name is Anya von Duren (Rosalind Russell). She is said to be a baroness, but it is revealed to the audience she is a fake because she is reading up on the Duchess and the other royal family members so it looks like she knows her stuff. When two men of the hotel staff help her pick out a table for the ball, it is very funny.
When they choose a table near the music, she says, “It’s much too close to the music.” They pick one farther away and she says, “It’s much too far away from the music.” They pick one in the middle and she says, “This is at once too close and too far away from the music.”
But when she points out the table next to the duchess, she thinks this is an ideal choice! As the men leave, they utter, “Women!” Inside her room, Anya says, “Men!”
The next day, Gerald wants to quickly get a shave in the hotel barbershop, which is right next to the “ladies’ salon,” only separated by a paper partition that can be taken down.
At first, he wants to be out of there as quickly as possible, but then he spots Anya right across from him in the “salon.” He smiles wide and decides to get the works—shampoo, manicure, pedicure—just so he can stare at her. Anya is not pleased to be stared at and is frustrated when the partition falls down and can’t be put back up.
Later, when she strolls over to the elevator, he notices her, having waited for her. She looks a bit confused and he gets on the elevator with her, offering his services so she can get where she’s going. He slyly bumps into the emergency stop button so they are delayed. She is visibly annoyed and he goes on talking to her, pouring on all the charm he can. Most of his pick-up lines are corny to the extreme and Anya is aware of this. Her eye rolls and general disdain for him are comical.
When he mentions that he’s a detective, this peaks her interest. Just as the elevator starts up again, he remarks, “Whenever I look at you, I get the strangest feeling that I’m suddenly shooting up toward heaven.” When she invites him into her room for a drink, she asks him questions about being a detective, feigning innocence and naïveté about crooks and the art of stealing. However, he knows she’s up to something because when she left the room, he notices that she had been reading up on the duchess and her family.
That night at the ball, Gerald comes over to Anya’s table, which horrifies her. She doesn’t want him around as she starts up her plan to steal the Duchess’s jewels. She asks him to leave, and then pretends that her “guests” didn’t arrive and acts like she’s embarrassed about it. She passes the duchess’s table, getting a careful look at her. The Duchess of Beltravers (Jessie Ralph) takes a good look at Anya and immediately wants her to sit at the table with her.
As they converse, Gerald listens intently to Anya speaking in a very rehearsed manner about the Duchess’s family. Anya, knowing about the Duchess’s history with alcohol, liquors her up and helps her to her hotel room. When the duchess passes out, Anya slowly and carefully slips the Star of Asia off her neck, drops it into top of her own dress, and steals out of the room, turning off the lights. Gerald emerges from one of the Duchess’s rooms, carefully places the fake necklace on the Duchess, and goes after Anya.
He demands the necklace when he arrives in her room. She feels she’s been licked and lets him take it. She is surprised, however, when he doesn’t arrest her. He responds, “How can a man put handcuffs on moonlight?” When he walks down the hall, she looks after him, saying pathetically, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” But just when it looks like Gerald has succeeded, Anya sees two of the hotel staff walk over with the “Star of Asia.” As she looks at the fake necklace, she realizes what Gerald just did to her. That involuntary eyebrow raise occurs!
The next morning, Gerald inquires about Anya at the front desk, but is told she already checked out. When he exits the hotel and is about to get into a cab, he sees Anya already sitting inside it, smiling at him. It isn’t long before she lets him know that she knows he’s a thief, too.
She demands to have her “property” back (the jewel), but he informs her that he should keep it for being more clever than her. When he calls her an amateur, she snaps, “I’m just as good a thief as you are!” But before they know it, in spite of what Gerald calls his cleverness, the cops are on to them. What follows is a chaotic, rather thrilling car chase, each car swerving back and forth like lunatics. They do escape the authorities and end up in a boat until they see a big ship about to leave.
They ask the captain where he is going and he says Hong Kong. Anya is not pleased with having to go to a faraway place like Hong Kong, but she has no choice. They promise to pay him for giving them passage on his ship. Gerald makes up a story about running away with Anya to get married. She is already married, according to him, and they are escaping her husband. At first, she cries out “How dare you!” but she decides to go along with this cover. Anya also squawks about having to share a room with Gerald.
After all, she hardly knows him. Gerald tells the captain (played by Peter Lorre in one of those gross caricatures of the typical Asian character of films at the time) that it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to be in the same room, so Gerald gets a small bunk somewhere else.
He gives their names as Gibbons and Hobbs and when he gets a chance to talk to Anya, he can see that icy veneer she had about her starting to break. Also, for the first time, she lets her hair down (literally). Rosalind Russell’s gorgeous, dark locks had been up for the majority of the picture up to this point.
From here on out, she keeps it down. She has shiny, thick hair that I for one would just die for!
After Anya starts to warm up to Gerald, she tells him a bit about her life—how her father was a criminal and she basically followed in his footsteps. Gerald, on the other hand, started doing underhanded things (being a card shark and the like) after a broken heart.
Now he’s a champion burglar and he is in good company. The next day, Gerald starts to get suspicious of the captain’s intentions. And for good reason. The captain is in cahoots with Inspector Cressney (played by , he almost caught Anya and Gerald back in Bombay) and plans on handing the two thieves over to him when they dock. Gerald suggests they escape before anything happens and right at this moment, they kiss for the first time.
Although Rosalind Russell did not enjoy doing romantic scenes, she did single out Clark Gable. She said something along the lines of “He knew exactly what to do. He knew where to put his feet” and he made his leading lady feel comfortable. Although I can’t imagine Roz and Clark being friends off the set… they just seem so different… I think they have fairly good chemistry in this film, at least in those kisses. They use one of the little emergency boats on ship and climb down into it on the water. Then they row away to freedom.
The couple live for a few months together in Hong Kong in a little underground room. Anyone watching this can tell Anya has really started to fall for Gerald and loves the idea of settling down with him and living a normal life. She doesn’t want to hop from town to town anymore and when she hints at this, Gerald doesn’t like it. She gets embarrassed and tells him she just got a little “goofy,” but she is visibly disappointed. They keep the Star of Asia, which they nickname “Baby,” inside a wax candle.
Gerald, who has become restless staying in one spot, gets an idea. He takes the identity of Captain Houston, a soldier, and gets a uniform fitted. He plans on using this to get out of Hong Kong. However, when he is spotted in the uniform, he is ordered to support Her Majesty’s Land Forces.
All men in uniform are being rounded up. Anya poses as Mrs. Houston and they try to devise a plan to get him out of there.
Just as they almost have him out, he is needed to evacuate some Chinese people, but the Japanese who have invaded won’t allow it.
What follows is the warfare sequence—with gunfire galore and the derogatory term “Japs” being thrown around, it is not my favorite part. I lose interest at this point also because Roz seems to mysteriously disappear. After the gunfire ends, Gerald is shot in the shoulder and must recuperate in the hospital.
Anya visits him every day and fell even more in love with him after seeing him in uniform. She is not as interested in being a criminal anymore. Gerald then receives the Victoria Cross, the highest honor, which Anya arranges. Unfortunately, Gerald does not want to be seen by all those people and to top it all off—to be filmed! Begrudgingly, he attends the ceremony and receives the Cross. He is met by Inspector Cressney and learns that Anya told the inspector that Gerald was posing as Captain Houston. He is angry at this, but as they walk outside, he orders some soldiers passing by to arrest Inspector Cressney on the spot. Later, an angry Cressney is outraged at what happened to him and at the fact that Anya and Gerald slipped through his fingers again.
But suddenly, Anya and Gerald show up at his office, handing over the Star of Asia. Anya tells him to book them as “Mr. and Mrs. Meldrick” because they will soon be married. I have never been a fan of this ending because although it is justice for them to be caught in the end, why does Anya act so happy about it? It’s not as if they will spend their life together in jail. But well, reality isn’t always an essential part of 1940s films.
Romance. Action. Melodrama. Torture. Death. Combine these things together and it spells out “China Seas,” a film from 1935. This is another one of those “Lady Mary” roles Rosalind Russell was already beginning to tire of. She once wrote, “I was always taking Clark Gable or Bob Montgomery away from Jean Harlow or Joan Crawford. Temporarily. It was ludicrous” (Life is a Banquet).
This was one of those occasions—this time Clark Gable from Jean Harlow. Rosalind played a rich English woman named Sybil Barkley, but Mr. Barkley is now dead and she is a widow, following an old flame of hers, played by Clark Gable, on the boat of which he is captain.
The film opens on the boat which will sail the China seas, like the title suggests. The voyage will be starting soon, but the captain is not yet on board. Without him around to hear, a few of the workers express their disdain for him and how he will probably arrive, hung over and grumpy. He does finally arrive and his crew could not be more correct about his attitude. It is in the opening scene where we meet some colorful characters played competently by great character actors. One is C. Aubrey Smith, who plays Sir Guy, an old (also grumpy) man who owns the line of China seas ships and tries to watch over Captain Alan Gaskell (Clark Gable). Also along for the ride are passengers such as constantly soused writer McCaleb (played hilariously by dependable Robert Benchley) and Timmons (Edward Brophy), the gap-toothed, New York accented man married to a beautiful girl (Lillian Bond), who seems to have some tricks up her sleeve.
Also, there is Dudley Digges, who plays Dawson, a crew man who is always drinking before he gets to work, and who is constantly being chastised by his captain for doing so or for having chewing tobacco in his mouth. Lewis Stone plays a rather withdrawn man named Davids, who has a bad reputation of being a coward while working on a ship. Finally, among this seemingly large cast are two of the leads, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. Jean Harlow plays a brassy, uneducated, buxom blonde named China Doll (or Dolly) who was involved with Captain Gaskell at one time, and still can’t get him off her mind. Wallace Beery plays Jamesy MacArdle, a criminal who is in cahoots with pirates and wants to attempt to take gold that he is sure is on the ship. Beery also exhibits a slight Irish accent in his role, which is interesting.
Shortly before the ship is about to take off, a classy British woman comes aboard. It’s Sybil and Gaskell is almost bowled over that she has materialized before him. He was in love with her some years ago, but could never act on it because she was married. However, he knows that she is now a widow and suddenly has stars in his eyes. She mentions to him that she “is now in his hands” and his temperament soon changes after their meeting. The voyage has started and Dolly, forever without shame, bursts into Gaskell’s compartment and mentions the “English dame” she saw him talking to. She is jealous of any woman he makes eyes at and Sybil is certainly no exception. She describes Sybil as looking like she was “smelling a dead fish or something.” Gaskell laughs it off as a joke and later that night, they all sit at a big table to have dinner and Dolly is envious of Sybil because she is allowed to sit next to Gaskell by the head of the table.
Sybil has very polished manners and appears to be charming Gaskell into making “goo-goo eyes” at her… or so it seems to Dolly. And Dolly’s green-eyed monster shows its true colors when she interrupts Sybil as she is talking about her native England with another wealthy, worldly woman named Miss Yu Lan (played by Soo Yong). Dolly starts in with her loud, obtrusive voice, making a mockery of English society women like Sybil and even pretends to put a monocle over her eye, thinking that sums up dull English women in a nutshell. Sybil simply smiles at her and tells Dolly that she must really be in love with Alan if she is willing to humiliate herself that way. She excuses herself and Gaskell glares at Dolly, having had enough of her embarrassing him with stories of his darkest moments.
When Dolly goes to Gaskell’s cabin to apologize for her behavior the night before, she tells him maybe there aren’t enough male versions of Sybil to go around. He responds by saying, “The real trouble is there aren’t enough female Mrs. Barkleys.” Although Harlow is a major scene stealer in this film and is constantly barking at Clark Gable, who barks back just as loudly, something great going for Roz is her costumes (again). She wears beautiful gowns that appear to be mostly white, although it is hard to tell in black and white. They are expensive-looking, very lovely, and could not make her stand out more. A personal favorite of mine is the adorable polka dot number she wears the day after the eventful dinner. It is important to note how excited Sybil is to be on the ship and how she seems almost itching to see a dangerous storm or something of that magnitude to take over the ship.
After Gaskell and Sybil decide they will get married when they get to Singapore, a storm just like Sybil had heard about begins to brew. It causes chaos and tragedy as large objects move from one side of the ship to the other. Gaskell even saves a little girl from being crushed by a piano that was barreling toward her. On the dock, there are steam rollers that horrifyingly crush a few of the men aboard. And the horror doesn’t stop there. Soon after the storm, the ship is taken over by pirates with whom Jamesy is working. They are sure there is gold aboard, so they torture Gaskell with the “Malay boot” in order to pry information from him. The Malay Boot is an ancient torture device that was put around the victim’s foot and as they are being tortured, the spikes or iron vises inside would put pressure on the foot, crushing it if enough was applied.
Naturally, Gaskell constantly passes out from the pain until Jamesy decides he doesn’t know anything about the gold because no man could possibly be that tough. Meanwhile, Dolly has been forced to work with Jamesy after she accidentally finds out what he is up to. She gets him the key to the arsenal so that the pirates can take over the ship.
The next day, the pirates have been overcome by the ship’s crew, especially Davids, who risked his life (contrary to his reputation) by setting off a bomb near some pirates. Gaskell is using a cane to get around on his bandaged foot. Dolly doesn’t want Gaskell to get into any trouble and tells him that “When a woman can love a man right down to her fingertips, she can hate him the same way,” even though both Gaskell and the audience know that she can only love him.
When Sybil makes her sudden reappearance, it is only to be told that he can’t marry her. Not only does he not want to involve Sybil in the scandal, but a house in Sussex is not really for him and he could not possibly love any woman more than he does Dolly. Referring to Jamesy’s previous line about no man possibly being that tough, Alan Gaskell in fact is. There was gold on the ship, but it was hidden in the steamroller, and he never let it slip while being tortured.
This is a very good film just chock full of so many different genres and such a large cast, each individual character having their own story. I would recommend it to anyone, especially to Clark Gable and Jean Harlow fans. They are at their best in this film and it is rather thrilling to watch them scream at each other as only Clark Gable and Jean Harlow could.
Forsaking All Others is a 1934 comedy that is absolutely star studded. It stars Robert Montgomery, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable, with the great character actors Billie Burke and Charles Butterworth in smaller roles. Our one and only Rosalind Russell has an even smaller part, and although her character is sprinkled here and there throughout the movie, her role is fairly tiny.
The upside of it is that her character, Eleanor, has some of the funniest lines in the film. In fact, all of her lines are comical. She is almost never serious and she entertains us.
This film is about three friends who grew up together—Dillon Todd (Robert Montgomery), Mary Clay (Joan Crawford), and Jeff Williams (Clark Gable). Dillon and Mary are about to get married as Jeff blows into town to tell Mary of his love for her. Fortunately, he finds out about their impending marriage before embarrassing himself. As the men are about to leave for the bachelor dinner, Eleanor (Rosalind Russell in case you got lost in all of the characters’ names) says she wants to go to the dinner and Shemp (Charles Butterworth) says to her, “Can you do a fan dance?” to which she replies, “Do one? I wrote the fan dance.” Roz’s role is one of comic relief—she’ll appear in the scene, say a funny line, and essentially disappear from the scene.
As the story unfolds, we discover that Dill will not be a faithful husband as an old flame of his, Connie Barnes (played by a very young Frances Drake), comes calling on him and before you know it, he has run off and married her, leaving Mary at the altar the next day.
Again, as Paula (Billie Burke) and Eleanor help Mary get ready for her walk down the aisle, Eleanor spews out this confusing line, something fast and funny that Roz would eventually become famous for: “She worries more about something to worry about than she worries about an actual worry.” Just as anyone else would respond, Mary says to her, “Can you say that again?” It is obvious that Eleanor is thought of as the friend who doesn’t think she’ll ever get married, and at one point in the scene, she says, “I’d rather be married in alcohol.” When Paula is shocked at this, she says, “Don’t worry, Paula, I’ll be so old they’ll have to pickle me in something!”
The rest of the movie centers around the three main stars mostly, with Charles Butterworth there for support as a close friend of Jeff’s (Clark Gable). Needless to say, the marriage between Dill and Connie doesn’t work out (yeah, I was expecting that) and he tries to make it work with Mary again. Stupidly, she falls for him again, but in the end, she realizes that Jeff is the one who will love her honestly and faithfully, and she goes after him as he leaves the States on a boat.
Some of the best scenes involve Robert Montgomery, such as when he gets drenched in the rain and when he comes to a cabin with Mary, he is forced to wear a silly-looking nightgown with frills. He then tries to make a fire because they are freezing but he doesn’t know anything about making one. He eventually sets the nightgown and himself on fire. Although this isn’t funny in theory (imagine if you were him!), Bob’s reaction to it is priceless and you can’t help but laugh. So the next day he has bandages on his hands from the burns and is nursing a cold. Another funny scene is at a party that Dill and Connie give for some friends and we see (briefly) Eleanor and Shemp dancing in the living room. The way they dance past all their friends, completely deadpan looks on their faces, is too funny.
While it is a pity that Rosalind Russell’s role was so small, we have to remember that this is very early in her career. Also, it was her very first chance to deliver comedy lines and she does so well, anyone can tell she would be a brilliant comedienne later in her career. Here are some other priceless quotes from Eleanor:
Eleanor: I wish I were a man.
Shemp: Were or had?
Eleanor: Oh, I’m so tired of being a bridesmaid. I’d like to get married so I could wear a decent hat.
Shemp: That’s the best reason for getting married I’ve ever heard.
Eleanor: [After Jeff has starting pounding on the door to get inside] Wait a minute, big boy! Don’t break it down. We’re in church! Who do you think you are, a fireman?
Eleanor: I was just wondering if they use lilies for weddings or funerals.