Reviews

We're No Angels (1955)

Tim O'Neil

Considering that the plot, such as it is, involves a pair of murders committed by Albert's poisonous viper, the jaunty tone doesn't seem appropriate.


We're No Angels

Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, Basil Rathbone
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: Paramount
First date: 1955
US DVD Release Date: 2005-09-27
Amazon affiliate

As rare as it was for Humphrey Bogart to take a comedic role, he doesn't betray a hint of unease with the light-hearted We're No Angels. That was Bogart's great virtue, after all -- he was comfortable in any milieu, whether the Old West, wartime Monaco or the Florida Keys. Here, as an escaped convict on Devil's Island at the end of the 19th century, he displays his usual equanimity. It doesn't matter if his antagonists are firing bullets or witty rejoinders; Bogie allows the world around him to keep spinning, his own private gravity intact. It's a damn shame he didn't do more comedies, because he had the imperturbable balance of a natural-born straight man.

Unfortunately, We're No Angels doesn't hang together with the grace of its leading man. Based on a play by Albert Husson, the film suffers from slightly stodgy staging and the lackluster pacing endemic to theatrical adaptations since the dawn of film. Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray clearly relish the opportunity to play against type, but their interaction lacks the snap you would expect to see from a stage production. As such, the film is probably 15 or 20 minutes longer than it needs to be, and all that time is spent in unnecessary pauses between lines, as well as devoted to elaborate staging, the type of deliberate interaction that may work on screen but is death on stage.

A screenplay and a theatrical script are two different creatures, and any good adaptation is wise to be wary of these differences. We're No Angels takes place, for the most part, on one set, with two rooms and a garden. There's not a lot of kinetic cinema-friendly action or movement. The camera is removed from the action, remaining at a middle distance that gives the proceedings too much room. Any seasoned theatrical director -- or a movie director familiar with theatrical conventions -- could have trimmed the flab and produced a far less breezy picture simply by focusing on more tight shots of the performers and their interactions, as well as dropping the infernal pauses between the lines.

But Michael Curtiz is a film director (familiar to Bogart fans as the director of Angels with Dirty Faces and Casablanca). While the film is exquisitely shot, every composition taking full advantage of the sterling Technicolor. We're No Angels is a well-mannered screwball comedy, concerning three hard-bitten convicts who fall in with an essentially decent and well-heeled family on the backwater of Devil's Island. Felix Ducotel (Leo J. Carroll) is a well-meaning but inefficient merchant, exiled to the colonial outpost by his overbearing cousin Andre Tochard (precisely played by the great Basil Rathbone). On the eve of an untimely audit by the visiting Tochard, Ducotel's family becomes unwitting hosts to the three escaped convicts. The treatment needs more screwball and less good behavior.

At times the film seems at odds with the grim implications of its own plot. The three convicts are supposedly dangerous felons -- Ustinov's Jules is a safecracker and a murderer, Ray's Albert is an undefined sex fiend, and Bogart's Joseph is a relatively sedate white-collar bookmaker (the first time we seem him, however, he's complaining that he failed to kill a guard during the convict's escape). But the implications of their fiendish crimes are glossed over during their stay with the Ducotels, during which the family seems thoroughly unconcerned by the thought of their wholesome daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott) being shadowed by a convicted rapist.

Considering that the plot, such as it is, involves a pair of murders committed by Albert's poisonous viper, the jaunty tone doesn't seem appropriate. Mostly unmemorable, it's merely a footnote in the careers of those involved.

Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.