This month, Clark Gable is a thief chasing jewelry and fellow swindler Rosalind Russell in They Met in Bombay.
Gable is Gerald Meldrick, a jewel thief who has trailed a British duchess to India to steal her antique diamond necklace. He encounters Anya Von Duren (Russell), a rival thief out for the same score. She succeeds in stealing the necklace, but he fools her into believing he is a detective and gets the necklace from her. She figures him out and he proposes they be partners. They hop on a Chinese ship headed for Hong Kong but the crooked captain (Lorre) tries to turn them in for ransom. Paddling their way to shore, they hide out in Hong Kong. Gerald disguises himself as a British officer in hopes of getting them out of there, but he is soon sent to the front to fight against the Japanese.
Just a few years earlier, Roz was playing second fiddle in Gable films–the funny bridesmaid to Joan Crawford’s bride in Forsaking All Others and the lady from the past who gets passed over for Jean Harlow in China Seas.
But here she is finally Clark’s leading lady and she was happy for the promotion. Hedy Lamarr was originally slated for the lead in the film, but withdrew after adopting a baby.
Roz recalled: “Clark was a delight to work with.He always shared, never upstaged his marks or the other performers. There was nothing small or petty about him. No director ever had to tell how to do a love scene. He was tremendously graceful. Much like a ballet dancer, he had rhythm and timing. There wasn’t all that enormous clinching and awkwardness that some actors put you through.”
This film is a typical Gable formula—he’s a rogue pursuing a pretty lady in an exotic location. Roz appears, wearing a ridiculous hat, and of course instantly enchanting our hero.
Clark then starts stalking her in a rather creepy way, not unlike plucky Joan Crawford chasing him in Dancing Lady.
And well, if you’ve ever wanted to see Clark Gable getting a haircut, manicure and pedicure at the same time, this film’s your chance.
Roz gets to the necklace before Clark does, after getting the baroness drunk and slipping it off her neck, and scurries back to her room with it. Clark knew she was after the same thing he was and makes sure to get his replica onto the baroness’ neck and swiftly makes off with the real thing himself, letting Roz thing he’s a saint for not turning her in.
She is of course furious when she finds out the truth.
But no lady’s hatred of Clark lasts too long and soon Roz’s resentment fades and gives away to a typical Gable clinch. “I’m caught all right,” he says.
The two lovebirds hide out in a basement in Hong Kong (seemingly sharing the same cramped space, I might add) for a few weeks until they start running out of money. Clark, naturally, wants to think up a new swindle, while it seems Roz is ready to play it straight, get married and have little Rozes.
Clark then gets the idea to impersonate a member of the British military to score a few extra bucks and then gets roped into fighting the Japanese. This, of course, makes an honest man out of him, after he is awarded a medal for bravery.
For me the film starts to go downhill once he joins the military ranks. It stops being a spy caper and becomes something else entirely. But you know that 1941 audiences ate this kind of thing up–exotic locations, military strategy and all!
1941 was the last year of what I’d consider the golden era of Clark’s life–married to Carole, fresh off Gone with the Wind–career going great, home life couldn’t be better. So it’s hard not to watch the film and think that, just over a year later, a heartbroken Clark would be saluting for real.
This film for me is just ok. It’s not without its charms, it’s just the wide swing from fancy debonair caper to military man on a mission is rather jostling. Roz and Clark’s chemistry is plausible, but not white hot.
They Met in Bombay is available on DVD.
Read more about the film here and see pictures from the film in the gallery.