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Film / We're No Angels

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Isabelle: You don't look like a criminal to me.
Albert: If crime showed on a man's face, there wouldn't be any mirrors.

We're No Angels is a 1955 comedy film directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov.

Shortly before Christmas in 1895, unapologetic convicts Joseph (Bogart), Albert (Ray), and Jules (Ustinov) escape — along with Albert's pet viper, Adolfe — from the infamous Devil's Island prison in French Guiana. After dodging search parties, they seek refuge in the shop of Felix Ducotel (Leo G. Carroll), who is struggling to make ends meet under the overbearing supervision of his cousin Andre (Basil Rathbone). Given the spirit of the Christmas season, the trio decide to assist Ducotel, his wife Amelie (Joan Bennett), and their daughter Isabelle (Gloria Talbott) the only way they know how.

Adapted from the stage production My Three Angels by Sam and Bella Spewack, itself based the French play La Cuisine des Anges†  by Albert Husson. Loosely remade as a 1989 film directed by Neil Jordan, written by David Mamet, and starring Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, and Demi Moore. In this version, the setting is changed to upstate New York during The Great Depression, and the escaped convicts (now reduced to a duo) masquerade as priests. Despite earning moderate critical acclaim, the remake was a box-office flop.


This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: After Paul sets his sights on his uncle's fortune, the convicts try to think of ways to kill him...only for Paul to walk in saying he'd been bitten by the snake hiding in his uncle's pocket. The convicts instantly congratulate themselves on a job well done, while the guy is still alive.
  • All-Natural Snake Oil: The "bottled air" plot that landed Joseph in prison.
  • Asshole Victim: Absolutely nobody is sad about Cousin Andre.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Isabelle faints, Joseph asks Albert to go get some water, presumably to splash on her; when it arrives, they all take turns drinking from it, instead.
  • Black Comedy: Perhaps the driving force of the entire film.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Felix: "I wish I was a drunkard; I wish I was dead; I wish I was a dead drunkard!"
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  • Brick Joke: Albert claims that you're supposed to loosen a girl's clothing when she faints. After he takes her into her bedroom, he's later forced out by Jules and says, "But you're supposed to when a girl faints!" Toward the end of the film, when she faints into Arnaud's arms...
    Albert: [To Arnaud] I read in a book once that when a girl faints...
    Joseph: He's a doctor; he'll think of something.
  • Chubby Chaser: Jules swoons over an overweight woman who visits the shop.
    Joseph: There's plenty to dream about.
    Jules: Mine! All mine!
  • Comically Missing the Point: This exchange between Albert and Isabelle, regarding the murder of his uncle.
    Albert: At the trial it was established I hit him over the head fourteen times.
    Isabelle: How could you do it?!
    Albert: With a poker, mademoiselle.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Cousin Andre; while his business matters are entirely legal, he holds no qualms with stiffing a cab driver 5 francs. Paul embraces this title more fully after burning his uncle's will, even going so far as to search the corpse's pockets for valuables afterward.
  • Deadpan Snarker: All three criminals, though Amelie has a touch of this as well.
  • Death by Materialism: Paul's first act upon inheriting his uncle's fortune is to search through the deceased man's pockets...only to find Adolfe.
    Joseph: What were you doing in his pocket?
    Paul: I was just...just...
    Joseph: "Going through the books;" we know.
  • Driven to Suicide: Isabelle claims to wish to kill herself after hearing that Paul is engaged to another woman.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Played sarcastically for laughs throughout the film as the convicts use every trick in the book to lie, cheat, and steal their way to success, but later played straight when they learn what Andre intends to do to Ducotel's store.
  • Fainting: Isabelle faints four times over the course of the film: once when reading the letter announcing Paul's engagement to another woman; next when she sees Albert's face; again when she sees Adolfe the viper in his cage; and finally when she finds Paul dead in the summerhouse.
  • Five-Finger Discount: Leave three hardened criminals alone in a general store, or even out on the street, and this is bound to happen several times.
  • Forged Message: Joseph utilizes his talents to make a love letter to Isabelle from Paul and a will that leaves half of Andre's fortune to Ducotel.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Joseph orders Albert and Jules to stop going soft over the Ducotels. They're here to rob them blind, ransack their store, bash in their heads if they get in the way, and escape... "as soon as we finish washing the dishes."
  • Implied Death Threat: Joseph tells Andre "I'd like to take care of you personally." Felix rushes to say that he means he'd like to see to Andre's luggage and amenities, but there's no doubting the tone he used.
  • Holy Halo: As the convicts return to prison, a halo appears over each of their heads.
  • Honor Before Reason: Felix doesn't enjoy the idea of scamming Andre, to the point where - even when it's his only option - he refuses to do so.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The three main characters do this when they realize how much of a mess Ducotel's store - and family - is in.
  • Last Words: Jules announces that Paul's last words were, "No credit."
  • Lovable Rogue: If the three convicts were anything but, there wouldn't be much of a film.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Albert; while he's no doubt a pervert, he has everyone's best interests at heart when they need to be.
  • Morality Pet: One reason Jules likes the Ducotels is that Isabelle is the same age as his own daughter.
  • Motor Mouth: The chubby woman who visits the store constantly fills any silence with her own voice.
  • Murder by Inaction: Andre takes Adolfe's cage under the assumption that it's stolen merchandise from the store; the criminals actually tell him there's a viper inside, but he refuses to believe them before he enters his room. Cue the criminals buying as much time as they possibly can before "warning" him one last time.
    Jules: You didn't tell him?
  • Nice Guy: Ducotel's store is the only store on the island that gives credit, and he is so polite that he rarely insists that people pay it off; as such, the store is struggling financially to make ends meet and he is about to lose his job.
  • Nice Hat: "When you're sixty, you'll wear a hat like that so men won't have to look at your face; not now, you have a nice face!"
  • Nominal Hero: All three of the convicts apply to this Anti-Hero archetype; they start off as completely selfish and unapologetic, and even when they do good things they do them in an illegal way.
  • Old Maid: The lady on extended credit tells Amelie it's a shame that Isabelle isn't married yet—at age eighteen. Amelie takes this seriously, because she herself was already married and pregnant with Isabelle at that age.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Subverted; Adolfe the viper is considered the fourth member of the convicts, and is treated as such (even earning his own halo in the final scene.)
  • Safe Cracking: Jules is an expert cracker, gaining access with a well-placed karate chop.
  • Secret Diary: Amelie openly admits to reading Isabelle's diary, which is nothing but thoughts on how much she loves Paul.
    Felix: You read her private thoughts?!
    Amelie: Why do you think I gave her the diary?
  • Snake Oil Salesman: What Joseph was locked up for, and what he continues to do when in charge of the Ducotel's store.
    I don't sell a piece of goods; I sell an idea!
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: The convicts are hoping to get off the island, yet at the very end of the film - when victory is within reach - they decide that their lives are better spent in the relative security of the prison. As they head back to turn themselves in, halos appear above each of their heads to signify an apparent holy forgiveness of each of the men (and their snake, too.)
  • Tastes Like Friendship: In an inversion of the usual. The trio decorate the house and cook a real Christmas dinner for the Ducotels (using entirely stolen items and foodstuffs). It's seeing the family experience genuine happiness for what is clearly the first time in a year that takes the convicts' heart out of robbing them.
  • They Have the Scent!: A group of search dogs appears in the beginning, but they lose the convicts' scents after rain suddenly falls.
  • The Peeping Tom: All three convicts take pleasure from watching Amelie try on her corset, and Joseph even tips his hat to her when she catches them in the act.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: Jules was imprisoned after he killed his wife for sleeping with someone else.
    Jules: It was my fault entirely; I should have written and told her I was coming.
  • Time-Delayed Death: From the moment Paul asks if any of the convicts know about snakes, they know he's done for. Instantly, they begin congratulating themselves for a job well done.
    Paul: [Oblivious] It stung at first, I can't feel a thing!
    Joseph: [Knowingly] He doesn't feel a thing.
    Albert: [Grinning] What did he say?
    Joseph: He says he doesn't feel a thing.
    Jules: In other words, doesn't hurt a bit.
    Albert: Oh, good! Good!
  • Title Drop: Near the end of the film.
  • Wretched Hive: We never see this, but Jules claims this of Marseille.
    I remember Christmas 1892, in Marseille: terrible, wicked place; rotten to the core; and I enjoyed every minute of it.


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