Saturday, 9 January 2010

Movie Review - We're No Angels (1955)

Watched this again today and realised that I never put the review on this blog - so here it is!

We're No Angels is a classic comedy released in 1955 starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray. Though I'd only ever seen it once before it had always stuck in my mind to the extent that I mentioned it in my Best Comedies write up - having watched it again, I can honestly say that it's a comedy that it has aged extremely well.

The motley trio of actors mentioned above are escaped convicts from Devil's Island - two murderers and a con artist - but of course as the movie goes on we see their softer side. Joseph (Bogart) is a smooth-talking trickster who seems from what he says to be the murderous animal of the three; Albert (Aldo Ray) can't keep his mind, or hands, off women; Jules (Peter Ustinov) is a safe-opener extraordinaire who unfortunately had a rather major disagreement with his wife that results in him being imprisoned. The three land up in a nearby colonial town seeking passage out, and aim to rob a local clothes shop to aid them doing so. However after seeing the plight of the shop owner Felix Ducotel (played by the incomparable Leo G. Carroll), his wife Amelie (Joan Bennet) and daughter Isabelle (Glora Talbott), the hearts of the three gangsters start to melt and they end up staying around to help them instead (always insisting, of course, that it's only part of the plan to escape the island!). As Joseph says: "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." As time goes on they meet two real criminals - evil very rich cousin Andre Touchard (whose attitude can be summed up in the phrase, "Your opinion of me has no cash value." - and his nephew Paul (John Baer). It's cousin Andre's money that has kept the clothes shop run by Felix afloat so far, but he's coming to audit the books, and things for the Ducotel family look very grim indeed... To make matters worse, Isabelle is in love with Paul, but he's now engaged to another woman - whose father is in Shipping, making her an ideal business deal...

Joseph, Albert and Jules do what they can to help the family out and sort out the evil relatives - and, as they have such an immense understanding of the darker side of human nature (and the lighter side too, as it turns out), they are doing great. But... there's still that boat to catch, and Albert has a pet snake called Adolf who just happens to be poisonous...

All of the cast are simply wonderful in this movie. I'm a big fan of Humphrey Bogart anyway and I wish he'd done more comedies like this, though of course he will always be one of the definitive tough detectives. His performance here is extremely dry but there's a twinkle in his eye telling you that he's enjoying himself immensely. It was a bit odd for me seeing such a young Peter Ustinov in a movie - I've tended to see him when he was much older - but his performance is the perfect foil to touch guy Albert and touch-talking Joseph. Aldo Ray was enigmatic as the lady's man who is very much a rough diamond while still having a heart of gold. All three showed superb comic timing and the script is very witty throughout with some great dialogue. The other performances were great too - Bennet was believably wary and Talbott sweetly and infuriatingly naive, Carroll was funny as the bumbling merchant, Baer was smarmy as the young man whose priorities were all wrong. Basil Rathbone was very, very evil - his Sir Guy of Gisbourne character in The Adventures of Robin Hood was a possible teddy bear in comparison!

There are no snazzy special effects, no sex. nudity, violence (well, not much!), and no bad language. It's possible that today's youth would find it very boring - so what if I'm being an old git, I enjoy it! (And I'm only 30 so getting my diploma in Old Gittness was a real acheivement!) If you're after a very enjoyable comedy with a cast full of class performers, a clever script, and an unexpected ending (if it's the first time you're watching it or if you have an extremely bad memory, anyway), then We're No Angels fits the bill perfectly. One of my all-time favourite comedies, and always will be.

Another favourite quote from the movie: "If crime showed on a man's face, there wouldn't be any mirrors. "

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Runtime: 106 minutes
Released by: Paramount Pictures

Related Links

One of Humphrey Bogart's defining performances was as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon

Peter Ustinov was also in Around the World in Eighty Days - the BBC mini-series version starring Pierce Brosnan as Phileas Fogg.

See also: My Top Ten (and more) Comedies

CaptainD - Movie Reviews Blog

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