Merle Oberon in "The Dark Angel"
Lost the 1935 Best Actress Oscar to Bette Davis in "Dangerous"
For a film about jealousy, angst, and love triangles "The Dark Angel" is awfully pallid, conjuring problems for its billed trio in the vein of miserablist melodrama. The first half of "The Dark Angel" spans years and yet we only encounter four characters: Merle Oberon's Kitty, Fredric March's Alan, Herbert Marshall's Gerald, and Gerald's mother, Mrs. Shannon.
One of the main issues for Oberon is founded upon the film's insistence on flitting back and forth between Kitty's romances with Alan and Gerald, neither of which is very interesting or reveals much about the two men. As the romantic core of the film Oberon's role is buried somewhat underneath the melodrama, the dramatic aims of the narrative providing scant opportunity for her to do anything but react to Kitty's dearth of fortune. She often endeavours to do this through impulsively pained gestures of emotional intensity, and her lucid, harsh vocal work distracts from the implied tenderness of the romantic exchanges. Either as a result of the constraints of concentrated melodrama, or because she simply doesn't know what the character is supposed to represent, Oberon is unable to create much of a transitory impression of Kitty, reliably pleasant but fatefully languid a heroine for much of "The Dark Angel"'s testing length.
She does, however, nail the film's final scene (possibly its finest), gladly festering on a rare-afforded opportunity to independently shine. Kitty's feelings, completely unanchored and fragile as she is deceived by her original first love Alan, allow Oberon to explore this woman a little deeper, to investigate the harsh emotional ambiguities that have entered this wispy (for a while, anyway) dilemna of love. Oberon really pushes the reserved character to desperate levels of solemn, impacting frustration, and without over-exerting herself anywhere near as rashly as she does in the film's middle portion.
And yet, you never really get a sense of who Kitty is; whether she is content because she knows she has a husband in the bag, or if she is just a placid introvert biding her time. Oberon doesn't develop enough through the hurdles of the character, and fails to allude to her internal conflict, neither seeming resilient or resigned to life passing her by. Disappointingly, for long spells of "The Dark Angel", the footholds of the script bypass Oberon too.