Bombay Gal Charms in 1938 English Film

Leslie – One can never be sure of anything with a past like mine.

Logan – Oh, My Darling! When a woman is in love, she has no past. She is reborn. She’s an innocent girl again.
Mumbai gal Merle Oberon and the legendary British actor Laurence Olivier in The Divorce of Lady X

Last night, I hit a triple jackpot when I sat down to watch The Divorce of Lady X, a delightful 76-year-old English romantic comedy.

Not only did I get to drool over the beautiful Bombay-born Anglo-Indian girl Merle Oberon, who went on to become a big Hollywood star in the 1930s and 40s.

I also had the thrill of watching legendary British actors Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson in the same movie.

It was my first glimpse of any of these actors on the screen.

Romantic Comedy

The Divorce of Lady X is a hoot.

The writing crackles with humor, the acting is outstanding and, oh, the 1938 film was shot in color.

Can you believe it? They were making color films as early as 1938 in England.

Born in colonial India (Bombay, 1911) as Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson, Merle Oberon a.k.a. Queenie moved at six to Calcutta, where she lived until 1929 before heading out to France for a shot at a movie career.

Merle soon shifted base to England before finally dropping anchor in America, where she lived until her death in 1979.

Now that you know about our ‘Indian’ heroine Merle Oberon, let’s get to the movie.

When a dense fog prevents Leslie (Merle Oberon) from returning home after a period ball dance, she has no choice but stay put at the hotel.

Despite a shortage of rooms, the enterprising gal manages to find a bed in a suite occupied by misogynist divorce lawyer Everard Logan (Laurence Olivier).

Sparks fly instantly between the two – Irritation and Attraction.

Attraction quickly overpowers Irritation.

But as with most romances the course of true love never does run smooth.

To Logan’s great distress, Leslie has already swept through “four marriages” and “two episodes” in five years.

Despite his “knowledge” of Leslie’s past, Logan can’t help himself.

For the until-recently-misogynist is besotted with the girl.

From there on, the movie is a hilarious riot with confusions and misunderstandings.

I’ve always believed writing towers over all other aspects of a movie.

Although the basic plot of The Divorce of Lady X is rather humdrum, effervescent writing and superb acting elevate the film into a gem.

Cast opposite two of the all-time greats of cinema, Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, our Bombay gal Merle Oberon still manages to leave an impact.

Although there were some minor sound issues, the picture quality of this 76-year-old film is very good.

Tim Whelan (of The Thief of Baghdad fame) directed The Divorce of Lady X. is delighted to recommend this long forgotten gem.

The Divorce of Lady X is available on YouTube (see above) and on Hulu Plus under the Criterion collection.

3 Responses to "Bombay Gal Charms in 1938 English Film"

  1. Ganesh Kumar   March 21, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Will watch it.

    Laurence Olivier is regarded as England’s greatest actor.

    And he directed a few films too. (Hamlet being the most famous.) Responds:

    YouTube has several copies…If you don’t like the print quality in one, you can try another.

    Laurence Olivier is a legend, of course.

    But less well known is Ralph Richardson, who is proof that great actors can leave a mark even in small roles.

  2. rmadasu   March 23, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Just saw the movie yesterday on

    Nice movie, the print was good too.

    It did not seem like a 1938 movie at all. Responds:

    Was that your first Merle Oberon film or had you seen her earlier on the screen?

    Although born in India, Merle pretended she was from Tasmania.

    • rmadasu   March 24, 2014 at 10:08 am

      It was my first Merle Oberon movie.

      Merle is pretty but somehow doesn’t seem to have the recognition of some her contemporaries like Rita Hayworth, Bacall etc. She did seem more Asian (as used by Americans) or Eurasian than Anglo Indian though. Her mother apparently was part Burmese? Nevertheless she had an interesting and colorful life it seems.

      The movie though could have been from any era. The same script with a few tweaks would work even today. I wonder if these guys introduced the RomCom trope of the Leading Man or Lady running to a train station/airport/ship port to stop the other from leaving for ever. Responds:

      1. You write: The movie though could have been from any era.

      That’s the hallmark of extraordinary movies.

      They could be set in any era and still have a strong appeal.

      2. You write: I wonder if these guys introduced the RomCom trope of the Leading Man or Lady running to a train station/airport/ship port to stop the other from leaving for ever.

      Here’s a great Hindi song that follows your point of the Leading Lady running to the train and the guy running after her from the 1961 film Professor (Kalpana, Shammi Kapoor):

      Kalpana oozes grace and class, a rarity in Bollywood ‘actresses.’

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