Christmas Movie Blogathon: We're No Angels (1955)

"We came here to rob them, and that's what we're going to soon as we wash the dishes."

That quote is the essence of the 1955 Christmas movie We're No Angels. It's the late 19th century and three fugitives -Joseph (Humphrey Bogart), Jules (Peter Ustinov) and Albert (Aldo Ray)-from Devils Island Prison need resources to forge passports, change clothes and leave the island. The Ducotel General Store is their mark.

But first, a little party.

Mr. and Mrs. Ducotel (Leo G. Carroll and Joan Bennett) are so kind, the criminals continually find excuses not to kill and rob them. ("After all, it might spoil their Christmas," says Albert.) Instead, they plan a Christmas dinner for the family by stealing a turkey and flowers from the governor's garden. It's a time of giving, but in a twisted way.

The turkey just followed them against their will.

They also help the daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott) overcome her timidity. Why? Joseph explains, "She reminds Julie of his youth, me of the home and family I never had, and Albert... Albert is a swine." The dialogue will keep you smiling throughout.

Albert actually helps a woman this time.

Based on a play by Albert Husson (Is the author making comments about himself with one of these characters? Hmmm...), and directed by Michael Curtiz, We're No Angels boasts Technicolor, brightly-lit surroundings and familiar actors to keep the film from becoming overly-morbid. 

The humor is also in little changes of costume. The fugitives arrive in baggy cottons with little underneath, and by the Christmas sequence, they have dressed for dinner. They are still in the same ill-fitting clothes, but Joseph the embezzler has paired his prison wear with a festive dark green shirt (or is it the color of money?). Jules, the posh safe cracker, chooses to wear a starched collar and tie, shirtless. Albert, the womanizer and murderer, goes with a pink shirt and sportive white scarf tied in a simple knot at the neck.
Which is hilarious.
You've got three anti-heros, but there is also a straight villain. Basil Rathbone as Cousin Andre - the store's owner- stops by to go over the store's failing accounts. The inmates do not like this interloper and seek to help the Ducotels in the best way they know.
And Cousin Andre seems to sense the danger. He mentions his pistol and welds his cane about like a sword.

Though the film is about fugitives begrudgingly allowing people to live, in real life, Bogart was generous. This was a tough time, career-wise, for his friend and co-star, Joan Bennett. Her husband had shot her agent a few years earlier and served time. This scandal lost her many film jobs; she became a social outcast.

But she was never a pariah to her true pals.

When Paramount Pictures began casting for this film, the legendary star of Casablanca thought of Ms. Bennett. "Bogie,who also lived on the same street that I did,"  the actress would later say, "insisted that I be in We're No Angels or he wouldn't do it. That is a good friend." A good friend, indeed.
Though it is a family-friendly holiday film, because of the dark humor it doesn't fall into the common trap of others of its genre - it never becomes too sappy and cloying. We're No Angels is a refreshing change of pace for the season and a lot of laughs.

Christmas Movie BlogathonThis entry is for the Christmas Movie Blogathon hosted by Family Friendly Reviews. Read the other entries by clicking here.


  1. I get a greater kick out of this movie as the years go by. Stuff that went over my head when I was a kid now tickles me no end. It might have been fun to have seen future adventures with the three convicts.

    Fun trivia: The cousin Andre role was played on Broadway by Henry Daniell, sometime Moriarty to Rathbone's Holmes.

    PS: Three cheers for Adolphe.

  2. Future adventures with them would have been enjoyable. They set everything up for a sequel.
    Didn't know about Henry Daniell. Thanks for that.

  3. Great review! This film is not considered a Christmas classic, but after reading your post I see it should be. Too bad it's been a long time it last aired here in Brazil!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  4. I just discovered this little known gem and was pleasantly surprised by it. Despite its pokey pacing, it had me grin,laugh and giggle all through it. Although there is some slapstick in it, most of the humour is very dry, with plenty of precious funny throw-aways that take a few moments before they register. Thank you for posting this review, may it help others (re)discover this Christmas nugget!


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