25 Days of Christmas: ‘We’re No Angels’ puts a welcome twist on the standard Christmas Wish story

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Throughout the month of December, TV Editor Kate Kulzick and Film Editor Ricky D will review classic Christmas adaptions, posting a total of 13 each, one a day, until the 25th of December.

The catch: They will swap roles as Rick takes on reviews of television Christmas specials and Kate takes on Christmas movies. Today is day 14.

We’re No Angels (1955)

Written by Ranald MacDougall
Directed by Michael Curtiz

What’s it about?

A trio of escaped convicts on the lam, Joseph (Humphrey Bogart), Albert (Aldo Ray), and Jules (Peter Ustinov), duck into a shop run by the Ducotels (Leo G. Carroll as Felix and Joan Bennett as Amelie) planning to lay low on the roof ‘til dark, when they’ll rob the place blind and head to their getaway ship. Over the course of the day, however, they become invested in the Ducotels’ struggles and wind up cooking Christmas dinner for them and when the Ducotels’ stingy boss Andre Trochard (Basil Rathbone) and his insincere son Paul (John Baer) show up to cause trouble, the trio step in to handle the situation as only they can.

Review

From A Christmas Carol to It’s a Wonderful Life, holiday films have long explored the idea of the Christmas Miracle. We’re No Angels falls into this category and follows many of the standard beats but what keeps it from cliché is its twist. Rather than ghosts or angels, the wish-granters/guardians are recently escaped, admittedly guilty, violent convicts. This is what makes the film work. Yes, it’s entertaining and fun, but what elevates it above more standard fare is the underlying sense of menace to the cons. They’re cuddly as teddy bears when they decide they’re amongst friends, but before this they bully Felix and enjoy leering at Amelie while she’s dressing.

There’s also a strong sense of threat, at least given the time period and comedic tone, when Isabelle, the Ducotels’ teenaged daughter faints and is left alone with Albert- the others make sure to send someone else in to make sure Albert behaves himself. This may seem rather tame, but the sense of the internal struggle between what these characters know the Ducotels want them to do and what they’d prefer to do makes for several nice moments of comedy and drama. Avoiding spoilers, let’s just say Albert’s pet (poisonous) viper, Adolphe, plays into things.

Bogart, Ray, and Ustinov play well together as the convicts. They’re an odd trio, with very different looks, physicality, and characteristics, yet the actors sell their friendship, or perhaps more accurately, colleague-ship. They balance each other well and are all very believable as bad men still capable of their own brand of good. Basil Rathbone is also a lot of fun dialing it up to 11 as the greedy, villainous Trochard. He has few scenes, but makes the most of them. The script is solid, but the most memorable moments are almost all silent ones, such as a significant game of cards late in the film. MacDougall does get credit for opting out of the predicted resolution to Isabelle’s story in favor of a far more logical and modern one.

Curtiz, perhaps best known as the director of Casablanca, uses few directorial flourishes and stays out of his actors’ way. The early film blocking of the trio on the roof, looking in unseen on the action inside the house, may be an unsubtle reference to their role as unlikely guardian angels, but it’s still effective and is a nice visual reminder of the tone and purpose of the film. The ending may be pat and unconvincing, but it doesn’t take away from the overall fun and charm of the film. At 106 minutes, it’s not as tight as it could be, but the extra time spent sitting with the characters, particularly the cons on the roof, are well worth it. We’re No Angels is on the whole a nice, light bit of fun and a would be particularly appropriate as the second in a Christmas double bill with The Bishop’s Wife.

How Christmassy is it?

The film takes place on Christmas and its themes of forgiveness and naughty and nice tie in strongly with the holiday. On the Christmas movie scale (1=Brazil, 5=A Christmas Story), this gets a 4.

You May Like It If…

You like Bogey, black comedies, or just desserts at Christmas.

Final thoughts:

Its touch of black comedy makes We’re No Angels a fun twist on the usual Christmas Wish-fulfillment tale.

Kate Kulzick

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