I adore this movie. How much? Well, it's at the top of my lists of favorite comedies and favorite Christmas movies, if that tells you anything.
I first encountered We're No Angels (1955) when I was a teen. My family was in a hotel somewhere, probably on our way to Iowa for vacation, and as was my wont, I turned the cable TV to AMC, which back then showed actual classic movies and not stuff about zombies and advertising executives. And this was what was on -- it was about 2/3 over, and to tell the truth, no one in my family cared for Humphrey Bogart back then, but we must have had some time to kill before bedtime (probably were stuck in a hotel with no pool), so we watched this.
And we laughed. Oh, how we laughed. This movie has some of the best unexpected, intelligent, subtle humor I have ever seen. I realize I'm probably overselling this, but seriously, I cannot think of another movie that I laugh this much over. It's precisely the kind of snarkalicious humor I adore.
AMC was a really nice channel, back in the day, and would tell you after the movie ended what it was you'd just seen. So we made note of the title, and when we got home, we sought out this movie on VHS because we simply had to see all of it. And by the time we'd finished watching the whole thing all the way through, all four of us were converted to being Humphrey Bogart fans. Yes, it's true. (Amusingly enough, many years later, this movie also converted my best friend into a Humphrey Bogart fan after decades of disliking him. It's magical.)
Okay, time to tell you what it's all about. But not all of what it's about, because I hope that you run right out and find this movie and watch it. I know I said it's on my list of favorite Christmas movies, but I don't really consider it a Christmas movie, per se. I watch it any time of the year.
Three convicts (Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov) break out of prison on Devil's Island on Christmas Eve, 1895. They try to blend in with the population at a nearby town, which is pretty easy to do because a lot of convicts get loaned out to the townspeople for work. So people just assume they're three more such.
They enter a shop run by the kindly, ineffective Felix Ducotel (Leo G. Carroll), his perspicacious wife Amelie (Joan Bennett), and lovelorn daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott).
The trio of escapees intend to steal clothes so they can get passage on a boat in the harbor, and take a job repairing the shop's roof so they can figure out what they want to steal.
But instead, they wind up helping the Ducotel family out of one little mishap after another. Felix is too kindly and absent-minded to be any good at business, and the shop is terribly in debt. From above, the convicts observe the family, learn all about their troubles, and can't help themselves from wanting to be of service.
Joseph (Humphrey Bogart) is a con artist and master forger, and he talks several customers into making purchases they didn't necessarily mean to make, to help the business along.
Albert (Aldo Ray) has a little too much fondness for the ladies, but he very helpfully carries Isabelle around whenever she faints, which she does remarkably often.
Jules (Peter Ustinov) is a safe-cracker, and he merrily opens safes and doors and luggage whenever needed.
Between them, they mastermind a plan (actually, several) to do away with the Ducotel's horrid Cousin Andre (Basil Rathbone), who has come all the way from Paris to berate poor Mr. Ducotel for being such a bad businessman, perhaps even have him thrown in prison.
But they're troubled by the necessity to keep the Ducotels from being in any way suspected of being involved. Especially since Isabelle fancies herself in love with Cousin Andre's nephew and heir, Paul.
Everything works out in the end, but I'm not going to tell you how because this is too delicious a movie to ruin.
The dialog is spectacular. Cowboy and I quote this movie allllllllll the time. There are so many witty one-liners and hilarious asides. My two favorite lines are probably these:
"If crime showed on a man's face, there wouldn't be any mirrors."
"Oh, it isn't fair! Here we are, three desperate criminals who will stop at nothing to escape from Devil's Island, and we have to fall in with nice people."
This is my second movie watched and reviewed for the Period Drama Challenge, which means now I get to show you a bunch of pretty costumes. Because this movie is loaded with gorgeous clothing.
Amelie Ducotel gets most of the prettiest costumes, beginning with this cute robe thrown over her petticoats.
I really love this green-and-cream ensemble of hers too, and isn't that blue outfit and hat perfect in its hideousness?
Supposedly, Amelie makes her and Isabelle's dresses, as we see her working at her sewing machine several times. Most of Isabelle's outfits are sadly a bit plain, dowdy, or silly, but Amelie's are all dreamy.
I'm especially fond of this purple dress.
Isabelle wears a really dreaful hat at one point, which Albert convinces her she shouldn't wear until she's sixty.
And we can't forget Joseph looking all fetching in Isabelle's apron while he's cooking Christmas dinner! It really does bring out the color in his beautiful, big, brown eyes.
The family changes into formal attire for Christmas dinner, which they've invited the convicts to join them for. This is Isabelle's prettiest dress:
And this is Amelie's.
Look at the detail on the back there! I'm not usually all that into paying attention to costumes, but in this movie, they are so delicious I can't help wanting to wear most of the dresses.
We can't forget the menfolk! Cousin Andre and Paul get some nice, dandified suits.
And so do the convicts later on.
Don't they clean up deliciously? Amelie and Felix are shocked at the transformation. And Amelie gets to wear yet another gorgeous dress.
Two more shots just because Jules, Albert, and Joseph are too adorable for words.
Now, is this movie family-friendly? On a whole, yes. The words "sex fiend" do get said in passing (as the sort of convict you don't want to have working for you), and our three antiheroes start out as kind of peeping toms before they start to like the Ducotels and want to help them.
Also, Albert's always wanting to loosen women's clothing when they faint, though he never does so. And to convince Isabelle she's attractive, he pinches her bottom, though that's totally implied. I'd say ages ten and up would probably get the humor and not be too shocked by the playful nudge-nudge, wink-wink style of flirty double entendres. There's no bad language and no violence (though there are deaths), though we do hear how and why two of our antiheroes killed people previously.
You can pick this up on Amazon for about $5, and I heartily recommend you do so.