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.
IMDB page for They Met in Bombay