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A romantic drama from producer Samuel Goldwyn, The Dark Angel (1935) begins with three childhood friends - Kitty Vane (Merle Oberon), and cousins Alan Trent (Fredric March) and Gerald Shannon (Herbert Marshall). Even as a child, Kitty loves Alan, and as the three grow up and remain close, the love between Kitty and Alan deepens. The two men go off to fight in World War I, and while home on leave Alan proposes to Kitty. Later, he is apparently killed in battle. In fact, Alan is not dead, but blinded. After the war he returns to England, changes his name and starts a new life because he doesn't want to be a burden on Kitty. Meanwhile, Gerald consoles Kitty and she agrees to marry him. Inevitably, the once-inseparable trio's paths will cross again.
The Dark Angel was the second film version of Guy Bolton's play. In 1925, Goldwyn had made the first one starring his new Hungarian discovery, Vilma Banky, and teamed her with his British leading man, Ronald Colman. The Dark Angel had been a huge hit and launched Banky and Colman as a romantic screen team. Ten years later, Banky was a casualty of the talkies, Colman had moved on, and Goldwyn's latest European discovery, the Russian Anna Sten, had been a flop with the public. Goldwyn needed a hit, so he decided to remake The Dark Angel and began looking around for another European actress to turn into a star. He had his eye on the beautiful British blonde Madeleine Carroll, but so did a lot of other producers. Then Goldwyn got a look at the exotic beauty Merle Oberon, and he knew he had found his star.
The Bombay-born Oberon was reputed to be of Anglo-Indian parentage, though she claimed to be a native of Tasmania. She had made her way to England, and after playing bit roles in British films, came to the attention of producer Alexander Korda, who signed her to a contract. She began an affair with the married Leslie Howard when they appeared together in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), and they both went to Hollywood in early 1935. The 1925 version of The Dark Angel had been one of Oberon's favorite films as a young girl, and when she heard that Goldwyn was re-making the film, she lobbied hard for the role of Kitty, and for Leslie Howard as Alan. Goldwyn liked that idea, but Korda was getting offers for Oberon's services from several Hollywood producers. Oberon bombarded Korda with telegrams, letting him know that she wanted to do The Dark Angel, and Goldwyn and Korda finally reached an agreement that would allow her to make two films a year for Goldwyn while she was under contract to Korda. By then Oberon's affair with Howard had ended, so Goldwyn cast Fredric March as Alan, to the dismay of Anglophile director Sidney Franklin, who had his heart set on Howard and felt that Oberon didn't have the acting ability to play Kitty. He was not the only one who was disappointed. Members of Goldwyn's staff felt that Oberon was "too exotic and sexy" for the role, which required a "virginal quality." Yet Goldwyn insisted that Oberon's exoticism could be muted by dressing her simply and toning down her glamour with lighter makeup and softer hairstyles. His instinct proved correct, and Oberon looked sweet and sincere in the film. Her heartfelt performance in The Dark Angel earned Oberon her first and only Academy Award nomination.
British-born Herbert Marshall was a solid choice for the role of Gerald, although at 44 he was 21 years older than Oberon and too old for the young man he played. (New York Times critic Andre Sennwald took note of the age disparity: "You may be mildly astonished to find that the child actors of the early part of the picture, all approximately the same age, grow up into such varying stages of adulthood as the middle-aged Mr. Marshall and the youthful Miss Oberon. It must have been the war.") Marshall had personally experienced the horrors of war - he lost a leg in combat in World War I. He had 20 years of experience on the London stage before he made his first film in 1929.
Goldwyn hired another Hollywood newcomer, playwright Lillian Hellman, who had been working as a script reader, to work on the screenplay for The Dark Angel. Hellman thought the story was "an old silly," but liked the "easy money and easy hours." She grew fond of Goldwyn, later telling his biographer A. Scott Berg, "I think our days together worked well because I was a difficult young woman who didn't care as much about money as the people around me and so, by accident, I took a right step within the first couple of months of working for Mr. Goldwyn." Her next project for Goldwyn would be These Three (1936), the film version of her controversial play, The Children's Hour. She would write several other films for Goldwyn, including the film version of her play, The Little Foxes (1941).
Even the critics who agreed with Hellman's assessment of the story were won over by The Dark Angel. The New York Times' Andre Sennwald called it "A happy adventure in sentimental romance. Lillian Hellman and Mordaunt Shairp have written a highly literate screen adaptation of Guy Bolton's play, skirting all the more obvious opportunities for tear-jerking and overemphasis, and telling the story with feeling and admirable good taste. The photoplay is in the handsome Goldwyn tradition of visual excellence....Both Mr. March and Mr. Marshall contribute their best performances in months, and Miss Oberon, abandoning the Javanese slant of the eyes for the occasion, plays with skill and feeling." Time magazine called it "A literate and tastefully arranged version of the celebrated sob-cinema." And the Times of London added, "The film makes a systematic and often very skillful appeal to those untrustworthy emotions which may suddenly cause the most hardened intellects to dissolve before the most obvious sentimentality." The Dark Angel was a huge success, and inspired Goldwyn to remake two more of his earlier hits, the silent Stella Dallas (1925) and the early talkie Raffles (1930).
Director: Sidney Franklin
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay: Lillian Hellman, Mordaunt Shairp, based on the play by Guy Bolton
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Editor: Sherman Todd
Costume Design: Omar Kiam
Art Direction: Richard Day
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Fredric March (Alan Trent), Merle Oberon (Kitty Vane), Herbert Marshall (Gerald Shannon), Janet Beecher (Mrs. Shannon), John Halliday (Sir George Barton), Henrietta Crosman (Granny Vane), Frieda Inescort (Ann West), Claud Allister (Lawrence Bidley).
BW-107m. Closed Captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri