Movie Critique - We're No Angels

For review of all movies starring Humphrey Bogart, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: An unusual Christmas story with comedy, charm and much needed life lessons spewed by none other than the convicts themselves. Delightful plot well directed and played by some supreme cast. Thoroughly enjoyable movie.

We're No Angels is a 1955 Christmas comedy directed by Michael Curtiz and produced by Pat Duggan. The cast of the film includes some outstanding actors including Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, Basil Rathbone, Joan Bennett, Gloria Talbott and Leo G. Carroll. 

In 1895, three convicts - Joseph (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart), Albert (portrayed by Aldo Ray), and Jules (portrayed by Peter Ustinov) - escape from Devil's Island prison in French Guiana before Christmas, and reach a small French town where they meat the Ducotel family who are in financial distress. The convicts and the Ducotel family come to a mutual agreement - while letting them stay, the convicts can con the customers and make them prosper. But things start to change and tempers flare when the convicts have a change of heart.

The film was made both in widescreen VisionVista and Technicolor, it was released by Paramount Pictures. The plot is adapted from the 1953 play My Three Angles by Samuel and Bella Spewack, a husband-and-wife writing team. Spewack's play was in turn based on the French play La Cuisine Des Anges by Albert Husson. Screenplay was given by Ranald MacDougall.

The film was aired on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel in December as part of their week long Christmas marathon movies, with a very broad spectrum of what makes a Christmas and the meaning of it for Christmas. Ben Mankiewicz, TCM host, who presented this film, goes on to explain why Die Hard, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Home Alone are all considered Christmas movies even though they are only tangentially connected to Christmas.

I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues who considered Die Hard as a Christmas movie and I never did. Well, Ben just proved to me why that was called a Christmas movie although not for real. Well this film falls under that broad spectrum that movie critics and presenters consider. Although the film does open with a Merry Christmas title card to emphasize Christmas connection.

Humphrey Bogart's rare film that is connected to Christmas as well as a comedy. We cannot forget his dry wit and timing of comic dialogues in all the dramas, mysteries and film noirs he had been part of. But this was a straight on comedy role for Bogart. This is one of the eight films that Michael Curtiz had directed Bogart including the 1942 American classic romantic drama film Casablanca

Bogart also played an escaped convict in the 1944 American war film Passage to Marseille; and in the 1947 American mystery thriller Dark Passage with Lauren Bacall, his real-life wife as his co-star. 

I recently watched Peter Ustinov as the famous Belgian detective Hercules Poirot in the 1982 British locked-room mystery Agatha Christie's Poirot: Evil Under the Sun, released 27 years after this film was released. Although I didn’t like him as Poirot, he made a very convincing convict Jules with a twisted mind of humor. 

As for Aldo Ray, the first time I saw him was in the 1957 American film noir Nightfall a few months ago. He portrayed the part of James "Jim" Vanning wrongly accused of murder, who was on the run trying to prove his innocence. He is again on the wrong-side of the law in this film as one of the three convicts, Albert. He came across as more sinister in nature than the other two, with shades of humor that only make him more chilling.

He still reminds me of William R Moses, who is known for his role as Ken Malansky in the Perry Mason TV movies from 1989 thru 1993, and as Jack Davis in the nine TV movies of Jane Doe series from 2005 thru 2008. Wonder if they both are related or if Moses aped Ray. 

Basil Rathbone makes his first screen appearance since 1946 British-American mystery thriller Dressed to Kill, which was his last appearance as Sherlock Holmes, along-side Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson. He is totally different in this film compared to his usual Holmes roles - a mean and stingy rich man who craves for more and more money. 

Joan Bennett plays the part of Amelie Ducotel, the mother in the Ducotel family managing the store. I remember her playing the role of Ellie Banks, the mother, in the 1950 American comedy film Father of the Bride. I still cannot figure out where else have I seen Bennett in. 

This was also the first major film for Bennett who hadnt appeared in a major movie in 5 years on account of a scandal involving her husband, Walter Wanger, a producer himself, shooting Bennett's agent and long-time friend Jennings Lang in a fit of jealousy and suspecting an affair. While Wanger and Lang, who survived the shooting, came back to film and became success, poor Bennett was blacklisted for no fault of her. Bogart, a long-time friend of Bennett pleaded his case to get her a role in this film. This gave a second stint at her career again. 

Not a musical but the film comes with two beautiful melodies. First one is Three Angels performed by Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray. Music composed by Edward J. Hopkins to Lyrics penned by Troy Sanders. Second one is Sentimental Moments performed by Joan Bennett. Music composed by Friedrich Hollaender to the Lyrics penned by Ralph Freed.

An unusual Christmas story with comedy, charm and much needed life lessons spewed by none other than the convicts themselves, who end up giving a special Christmas to a family that needs a little bit of fun, happiness and help in their life. Delightful plot well directed and played by some supreme cast. Thoroughly enjoyable movie.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The film was remade in 1989 with the same name with Robert de Niro, Sean Penn and Demi Moore in the lead cast. Instead of 3 convicts from the 1955 film, it is changed to two in the 1989 version. 

b. The name of the snake that Albert carries is Adolf, perhaps a mockery on Hitler.

c. Check out a familiar face from the original Perry Mason TV series, Gloria Talbott, as the daughter Isabelle Ducotel in the film. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. A piece of straw appears in Joseph's mouth when the scene moves to long shot in the very next second. 

b. Albert is seen putting the tar paper down twice on the roof, once in the long shot and once in the closeup shot back to back.

c. Amelie's costumes keep changing between scenes that happen in a matter of seconds, without any need or help.

d. The position of the dinner plates on the table keep changing between the scenes. 


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