We're No Angels - 1955


Year 1955

Starring

Humphrey Bogart   as  Joseph
Aldo Ray as Albert
Peter Ustinov as Jules
Joan Bennett as Amelie Ducotel
Basil Rathbone as Andre Trochard
Leo G. Carroll as Felix Ducotel
 
Director - Michael Curtiz
Screenwriter - Ranald MacDougall  
Playwright - Albert Husson

Bogart didn't do many comedies, but We're No Angels shows that it isn't from lack of ability. His on-screen delivery is matched by his pacing, position, and expressions. Not just Bogart, but everyone in this movie gives a stand-out performance.

The plot is simple enough. Three convicts, recently escaped from the prison on Devil's Island, still on the island waiting for a chance to leave, become involved in a nice family's travails. They meddle, and their meddling results in a series of good deeds with subjectively positive results.

It has to be mentioned that the movie is based on a stage play. Although this doesn't hurt the movie, it doesn't help it either. Each act is clearly demarcated and the locations are limited. Darned near claustrophic, in fact.

Michael Curtiz, the man who brought you Casablanca, does a serviceable job with the material. And he's reteamed with Bogart.

As for the plot, after escaping from the prison on Devil's Island with the help of a poisonous snake named Adolph, three men - Joseph (Bogart), Albert (Ray), and Jules (Ustinov) - decide to hide out until they can arrange for a boat to take them off of the island. They foist themselves upon trusting shop-keeper Felix (Leo G. Carroll) to repair his roof. While up on the roof, they can hear all of the conversations within the store which include Felix and Amelie professing their love for each other, the Ducotel's daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott) telling her mother how she loves Trochard's nephew, and how Trochard will be arriving to make life less than pleasant for the whole Ducotel family. The three men decide to "adopt" the Ducotel family.

By the end of act two (probably), they have come down from the roof and provided the Ducotel family with a wonderful Christmas Eve complete with a tree, decorations, flowers, and a turkey. Most movies would have saved this touching scene for the end. That this movie doesn't is pleasantly unexpected.

Then, Felix's wicked relative Andre Trochard (Rathbone) arrives. He's going to fire Felix. Also, Andre's nephew is venal and breaks the heart of Isabelle. So, with the help of Adolph, all is made right.

The jokes are a little off-color but nothing vulgar. Jules lusts after a plump patron, Albert does the same with the daughter, and everyone falls in love with the mother. The humor is dark and depends upon things like rape, murder, and theft to gain their punchline. With these three guys, though, it comes off as being amusing and not sordid or sadistic.

Here are some examples.


Albert: If crime showed on a man's face, there wouldn't be any mirrors.

Joseph: We came here to rob them and that's what we're gonna do. Beat their heads in, gouge their eyes out, slash their throats. Soon as we wash the dishes.

Joseph: [Nice]People like that - how can you cut their throats?.
Albert: It isn't easy.

Albert: I read someplace that when a lady faints, you should loosen her clothing.
Joseph: It's that kind of reading that got you into trouble.

The canards don't come at a dizzying pace, but crop up at appropriate times. The movie hinges upon the viewer's opinion of the characters. One of the hardest relationships to accept is that of Leo G. Carrol and Joan Bennett. But the two are such good thespians that you believe their nuptial union.

I've liked Leo G. Carrol since he was Alexander Waverly in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Another television series that he was in that I liked was "Topper". So, it's easy to give him a pass here and praise him for his credible performance.

Besides the staginess of the production, the ending is a little less than satisfying. But, you can't have the bad guys just leave, so although it's acceptable it's still empty.

There's no nudity, blasphemy, or profanity. There are religious themes (it's a Christmas movie after all and the title includes the word "Angels"), but ironically, two off-screen deaths provide the solution for the Ducotel's problems. "Good, Bad. I'm the one with the gun." For some, this movie may end up becoming a good Yuletide staple. I like it better than It's a Wonderful Life.


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