We're No Angels (1955)
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In WERE NO ANGLES, three convicts escape from Devil's Island and arrive at a nearby French colonial town. Their plan to steal supplies and clothing from the local store is ruined after they take a liking to the stores owner, especially his attractive daughter.
Audiences have always loved the spectacle of tough guys going soft and gooey, and We're No Angels adds the extra sweetener of Yuletide to its mix. The action takes place on Devil's Island, the tropical backwater where the notorious French prison was located. Three convicts, played by Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov, have escaped, and wait only for a ship to leave the next day. In the meantime, they become involved in the financial woes of an island shopkeeper (Leo G. Carroll) and his wife (Joan Bennett) and daughter, whose business is in danger from a rich, nasty relative (Basil Rathbone). Despite the threat of black comedy, especially in the form of a poisonous viper (which Ray carries around in a demure bamboo case), broad cuteness tends to rule the day. While it's not on the list of essential Bogart performances, Bogie does seem to be enjoying himself, and the puckish Ustinov savors his lines like a cow chewing grass. The stage origins of the scenario are all too obvious, and probably contribute to the pokey pacing (Michael Curtiz, who guided Bogart in Casablanca, was perhaps not the ideal choice for this kind of winsome comedy). This 1955 film looks good in comparison to the loose, labored 1989 remake with Robert De Niro and Sean Penn. --Robert Horton
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Top customer reviews
This is for me an almost perfect Christmas movie. Light as air, with a brilliantly written script and the emphasis on dry humor. If you are looking for overt religious content or didactic moral lessons those are elsewhere. There are traditional values here, but all with a slight twist. This movie has a simple purpose- to entertain. Pushing the limits a tad, there is a literal snake in this Devil’s Island version of the Garden of Eden.
Angels takes us to the civilian side of the French penal colony on Devil’s Island. Here the local shop owners, the Ducotel’s lead by Leo G. Carroll are well meaning innocents. Thus far they are usually the victims of their customers and now they become the unintentional hosts of three escaping convicts. The three had intended to rob and murder their hosts, but instead become charmed by the willingness of these people to treat them decently.
As the three multi-talented criminals get drawn deeper into the lives of the innocents they assume a guardianship of their hosts that will include everything from turning the tables on hard to please and rarely paying customers, to providing Christmas with all the trimming, including the aforesaid wandering turkey and ultimately the marriage plans of their daughter. It is in the contrast between the hard and cynical criminals and their worldly solutions and the bland innocence of their hosts that make the heart of this comedic situation.
Virtually all of the humor derives from the interplay between Bogie, Ustinov and Ray. The rest of the cast is their straight men. An ongoing physical joke is how the three physically intimidate, facilitate or stand in relation to other characters. Movie heavy Basil Rathbone will never pass through a door without having to maneuver around one or more of the 3. Spoken humor often derives from what we know a convict to mean as opposed to what he says.
The center piece of the humor revolves around a brilliantly staged discussion about who among the 3 should warn Monsieur Trochard (Rathbone) about a potentially deadly situation into which he has placed himself. At the risk of a spoiler it is not by direct action by these three that any other person finds themselves in danger. One of the very few negative reviewers would have you believe otherwise.
As of this writing the likes for We’re No Angels are 10 to 1 in favor. Of the less than 60 unhappy reviewers some experienced technical problems. My copy played with no problems. Color and audio quality was more than satisfactory. I am in region 1. This is a review of the DVD copy.