Plot: Joseph (Humphrey Bogart) is a recent prison escapee, along with his friends Albert (Aldo Ray) and Jules (Peter Ustinov), with plans to catch a ride on an outbound boat before the authorities can track them down. They’ve been able to evade detection, but they need some supplies before they can head out, such as new clothes and of course, some cold, hard cash. The trio sees a chance to get all they need when they happen upon the shop of Felix (Leo G. Carroll), a kind hearted, but easy to fool shop manager, who is busy with all kinds of problems. Joseph offers to patch up the shop’s roof, which allows the trio of convicts to case the shop, make their plans, and eavesdrop on the drama of Felix’s household. As some time passes, the cons find themselves drawn into the family’s circle, mostly due to how kindly they’ve been treated, all while the convicts have been stealing left and right. The kindness prompts Joseph to want to help Felix and his family, but these three aren’t known for sticking their necks out for others. Will the kindness they’ve been shown nudge the convicts into turning over a new leaf, or will they throw that out the window and go on with their original plan?
Entertainment Value: We’re No Angels boasts some remarkable talent, with Michael Curtiz in the director’s chair, while Humphrey Bogart and a small parade of great performers work in front of the cameras, all on deck to craft a warm, often hilarious Christmas movie like no other. The movie has a silly tone, but is by no means a thin, fluff kind of comedy, not even close. We’re No Angels is a comedy, make no mistake, but it takes a darker, more winding path to the laughs, a much darker path than you might expect from a 1955 production. I mean, how many Christmas movies involve theft and murder, let alone those issues handled with comedic results. If you really listen to the dialogue, it is rich with dark humor, from the convicts observations to how Felix’s family is treated, but it all lands. It never feels oppressive or too dark, just the right amount to earn a little shock value, no simple feat. Bogart, Ustinov, and Ray have the leads, but all of the main players are given ample time to shine, which leads to some great moments and exchanges. I do consider this a Christmas movie, as the holiday is so entwined with the narrative, but it isn’t focused on that until close to the finale. So it is more of a case of Christmas being an organic part of a larger tale, instead of a small story being written around the holidays. But as I said, this still feels like a Christmas movie and is right at home in a rotation of seasonal favorites.
The cast here is fantastic, led by Humphrey Bogart, who puts on a fine comedic effort that nails the role. Bogart, Ustinov, and Ray have a lot of screen time and just the three of them are a blast to watch. The trio works together well and the dynamic in the group is a lot of fun, they seem like natural friends. Bogart brings his no nonsense presence, Ray is the rough and tumble type, while Ustinov is the more traditional comic relief, though with a curious refined edge. All three are excellent and put the material to good use, a trio of leads that never disappoint. Basil Rathbone is also immense fun as an ice cold, all business relative, with his interactions with the convicts being a real highlight. I also loved Gloria Talbott as Isabella, as she exudes sweetness and charm, while delivering on the humor front as well. This is a deep, gifted cast that really shines and the material is smart enough to give everyone that chance. This is a movie that never fails to entertain me, but I can see how some might expect a little more substance, given the presence of Curtiz, Bogart, and the rest of the talent involved. I think it is smarter than most films of this kind however, not to mention the dark, subversive humor that crops up. I give it a high recommendation.