Tuesday, January 15, 2013

We're No Angels (1955)

Director Michael Curtiz will be remembered for helming several classic films including Casablanca, White Christmas and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

We're No Angels isn't one of them.

This 1955 effort, one of Humphrey Bogart's last screen appearances, boasts some funny lines, ranging from mildly amusing to loud guffaws, and a delightful short appearance by Basil Rathbone. But boy, it moves slow. Plus, these heroes are hard to cheer for given the crimes they've committed.

Joseph (Bogart), Albert (Aldo Ray) and Jules (Peter Ustinov) escape from a prison on Devil's Island. They need to get on a passenger ship that's anchored offshore due to an outbreak. To buy some time, and keep out of sight, they offer themselves as repairmen to fix the leaky roof of less-than-successful shopkeeper Felix Ducotel (Leo G. Carroll).

While roaming around the roof eavesdropping on conversations, the trio of convicts on the lam learn what's happening with Ducotel and his family. His cranky, dominating cousin Andre Trochard (Rathbone) is on said ship with plans to see how the business he owns is doing. With him is his son Paul (John Baer), who Ducotel's daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott) loves dearly.

Joseph, Albert and Jules have nasty things planned for Felix and his clan including cleaning out their inventory and killing them. But the merchant, his wife Amelie (Joan Bennett) and Isabelle all impress with their kindness towards them. The three put some of the skills that put them behind bars to work. Joseph has a convincing way with customers and drums up cash sales. Felix lets his customers put their purchases on account with payments rarely made. Albert enjoys the company of women and offers Isabelle suggestions on how to deal with Paul. Jules' ability at picking locks pays dividends too. A delightful Christmas meal is put together by means that wouldn't agree with the Ten Commandments.

The goodwill the three have towards the businessman and his family doesn't extend to Andre. They still have a snake that killed a guard and helped them escape from prison. Can said reptile put the bite on another adversary of the three men?

We're No Angels is based on a play so once the convicts set up shop in the store they don't move around much. As with Wait Until Dark, reviewed earlier on this site, this viewer gets antsy with a story set in one location. There's also the matter of the trio's backgrounds. Jules and Albert have, in particular, done nasty things and Joseph still sees murder as an expedient way to solve problems. It's hard to be entirely comfortable with characters like those.

The script's laughs are fairly frequent, but they come with a lot of effort from the audience's patience.

RATING: 6.5/10

FUN FACTS: Internet Movie Database credits Leo G. Carroll as the actor with the most credits in Alfred Hitchock's films. Hitchcock, with his mandatory brief appearances, has the most.

John Baer's credits also include Night of the Blood Beast and Superman and the Mole-Men.

John Smith, who appears briefly as the passenger ship's medical officer, made his film debut as a choir member in Bing Crosby's Going My Way in 1944. He'd be with the choir again in another Crosby production, The Bells of St. Mary's.

We're No Angels was remade in 1989 with Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn. I liked that version even less.

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