By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 182nd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films
As I said last week, “police and detective films of the ’30s and ’40s can be a wonderful thing.” So, when browsing through the program guide a few months ago, I was immediately struck by the title They Met in Bombay. I looked up the summary and found it to be a comedy caper about two jewel thieves in India. The stars included Clark Gable, the amazing Rosalind Russell and Peter Lorre. So, onto the DVR it went.
When I was looking for something to watch and describe for you faithful readers, the film struck me again. It starts in Bombay, where the Duchess of Belltravers (Jessie Ralph) is set to appear at the annual celebration of colonial British rule. The Duchess owns a fabulous necklace with a huge diamond pendant, the Star of Asia. Being a well-known jewel, it naturally attracts the attention of thieves. Gerald Meldrick (Gable) is such a thief and he has made a very acceptable copy of the necklace. He arrives at the hotel where the celebration will take place. He presents the manager (Eduardo Ciannelli) with a telegram presenting him as a detective for Lloyd’s of London, which insures the necklace. The necklace is kept is the hotel safe and guarded at all times when it’s not worn.
As he Meldrick checks in, he sees the Baroness Anya van Duren (Russell) arrive to make her own play as a con artist. She goes to her room and studies the history of the Belltravers family, brushing up on the family lineage and personal details such as who their friends are.
When Anya goes to get her hair and nails done, Gerald is there getting a shave. That shave quickly turns into a haircut so he can look admiringly at her. At the celebration, the Duchess notes that Anya looks just like she did when she was younger. Anya’s guests include a local prince, but they have not shown up (because they were never invited). The Duchess invites Anya to join her party as the prince in question is also a friend of hers.
Anya, being a good con artist, ingratiates herself into the Duchess’ confidence, and soon the two are back at the Duchess’ suite where the older woman falls asleep. Anya removes the necklace and departs to her suite. When Gerald enters, he sees that the necklace is gone. He puts his copy on the woman and goes to Anya’s room, where he confronts her as the Lloyd’s detective and gets her to give up the goods. A few minutes after he leaves, she sees the real hotel detectives leaving the Duchess’ room with the necklace, which she asks to see. She then realizes that she has been conned herself.
The next morning, Gerald checks out of the hotel and grabs a ride to the airport. Inside the cab he finds Anya. They discuss the evening’s happenings and the possibility of a partnership. Just as they reach the airport, they hear the sound of the police. Realizing the jig is up, they steal a boat and row out to a freighter on its way to Hong Kong. Captain Chang (Peter Lorre) realizes who the pair are and offers to turn them over when they get to Hong Kong for a £10,000.
The two grab the jewel and escape over the side of the freighter and hide out in Hong Kong for several weeks. Anya has acquired a domestic streak and is hoping the two can retire from theft. Nearly broke, Gerald concocts a new plan to steal money from a businessman who has defrauded the military. Getting a military uniform, he marches through the street acquiring soldiers as he goes along. He arrives at the mark’s house with a large contingent and fleeces the man of his ledgers and all the cash on hand. Things are going well. He and Anya are leaving in a couple of hours. Then the real military shows up. Gerald, using the name Captain Houston, is whisked to the garrison where he is impressed into handling the evacuation of the Chiang Lin province from the Japanese occupation. (This is at the beginning of World War II.)
Here the film turns into a heroic adventure and is no longer the romantic caper comedy it started as. Still, it remains fun. Gable and Russell work well together throughout, although Wikipedia tells me that Lana Turner was originally slated to be the co-star. I like Russell more than I do Turner, so this was fine by me.
Overall, They Met in Bombay was was good film and I really enjoyed it. Peter Lorre was only in the film 10 or 15 minutes and was pretty well wasted as an unscrupulous Chinese freighter captain. I had never heard of this film before, so it was a nice piece of serendipity that I found it and watched it. Perhaps it will work for you also. Though, of course, your mileage may vary.
Series organizer Todd Mason host Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.