We're No Angels
(1955), 106 min. color

We're No Angels is a delightful and entertaining comedy based on a popular French play by Albert Husson called La Cuisine des Anges. In 1953 the play opened on Broadway as "My Three Angels," and then in 1955 the story was brought to the big screen and the title changed to "We're No Angels."  The film stars Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray, and Humphrey Bogart (in a rare comic role). Also appearing of course is Basil Rathbone, in the role of the villain, Andre Trochard. 

Ustinov, Bogart and Ray play three convicts who have escaped from Devil's Island (off the coast of French Guiana) on Christmas Eve, 1895. Needing to hide from the police in town until they can get to a Paris-bound ship in the harbor, they volunteer to fix the roof of Mr. Ducotel's shop. They also intend to steal from the shop and the family after dark and make their getaway. Mr. Ducatel naively tells his wife, "I'll say one thing for crooks they'll give you an honest day's work."

Andre and Paul Trochard arrive at Ducotel's shop.

Leo G. Carroll, John Baer, and Basil Rathone

From the roof the three convicts overhear family discussions and learn of their financial difficulties and the daughter's unrequited love. The convicts grow to like the Ducotels and none of them want to steal from the family. They help out in the shop and give love advice to daughter Isabelle. The Ducotel family likes the three and invite them to Christmas dinner. Mr. Ducotel even gives them each a gift of money!

ALBERT: "If only they didn't trust us!"
JULES: "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."
JOSEPH: "You guys act like you don't want to cut their throats."
JULES: "Well, speaking for myself I'd just as soon not."
ALBERT: "After all, it might spoil their Christmas."
JOSEPH: "I don't care how nice they are, they're not going to soften me up. We're escaping, and this is our only chance. We came here to rob them and that's what we're gonna do beat their heads in, gouge their eyes out, cut their throats as soon as we wash the dishes."

Fortunately, Andre Trochard (Rathbone) arrives from France a thoroughly unlikeable Ducotel cousin who not only has money, but also a passport and return boat ticket! Trochard is accompanied by his nephew Paul, the young man who jilted Isabelle. Paul turns out to be as greedy and selfish as his uncle. The three convicts gleefully anticipate robbing the Trochards.

Andre Trochard owns the shop run by the Ducotels and, suspecting his relatives of embezzlement or incompetence, he insists on inspecting the financial records immediately. The three convicts want to help the Ducotels, so Joseph plans to "doctor" the books to show Trochard that the business makes a profit. But cousin Andre takes the books before Joseph has a chance to fix them.



Trochard tells Isabelle to forget about Paul, since she is not good enough for him. When Isabelle calls Trochard "wicked," he replies "Your opinion of me has no cash value."

Albert, one of the three convicts, has with him his poisonous pet snake Adolf, which he keeps in a small basket with a handle. When Trochard sees the basket, he thinks that the convicts are stealing something from the shop, so he takes the basket. They warn Trochard not to open the basket, but he pays no attention to them and takes the basket to his room. A few minutes later, the convicts find that Adolf has bitten Trochard and he is dead. But Adolf has disappeared, and the three convicts cannot leave a poisonous snake in the house. Jules quips, "He's probably recuperating somewhere. After all, he bit Trochard he'll die without the antidote." Mr. Ducotel is not sorry about his cousin's death. "He had a number of good points, I'm sure. I just can't think of any."

"We're No Angels"

Skullduggery, theft and murder are given the light treatment in this unusual film, replete with box-office and marquee names such as Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Joan Bennett and Basil Rathbone. Dressed up in color by Technicolor, and photographed in the VistaVision process, the film, in its off-beat, breezy style, offers many chuckling moments.

Three seemingly hardboiled, yet lovable, criminals are the principals—Bogart, Ray and Peter Ustinov. Serving as stimulants to the "gruesome threesome's" good nature and repressed sentimentality are Miss Bennett, Leo G. Carroll and Gloria Talbott, each portraying members of one family trying to make a go of a retail establishment on Devil's Island.

The trio, intent upon escaping their island imprisonment, as luck would have it, get involved in the family's troubles. And instead of robbing the retail establishment, Bogart, Ray and Ustinov conspire to marry off the pretty daughter, Miss Talbott, and kill off, by a neat set of circumstances involving a poisonous snake, the ruthless Rathbone and his greedy heir, John Baer.

On the whole, it is an imaginative fantasy, upsetting the natural order of things, jolting pat concepts about flim-flammers, wife-killers and such. And the vein of feeling is humorous and sentimental. However, the screenplay by Ranald MacDougall appears to bog down at times, slowing down to an overly-relaxed pace, and at times not catching completely the light-champagne imaginative quality required of the fantasy.

Top performances are turned in by the cast, with stand-out acting jobs rendered by Ustinov and Carroll, the latter portraying a harried father, preyed upon by Rathbone, his so-called "benefactor." Bogart remains his competent, natural self in this role, while Ray should win himself some new fans and Miss Talbott should gain recognition for her beauty, charm and ability.

Others in the cast include Lea Penman, John Smith, Louis Mercier and George Dee.

Pat Duggan produced and Michael Curtis directed. The screenplay was based on a play by Albert Husson.

Running time, 103 minutes. General audience classification. For August release.

Murray Horowitz

Motion Picture Daily, June 13, 1955, p. 5

Joseph forges Andre Trochard's signature to a will that states Trochard's estate is to be split between his nephew Paul and the Ducotels. Discovering the will, Paul destroys it so that he can inherit all. "Sentiment has no cash value." As Paul is going through his uncle's pockets, he finds Adolf, with deadly consequences.

The doctor who comes to the house to sign the death certificate is a perfect beau for Isabelle, so all ends well for the Ducotel family and the three convicts say goodbye. Instead of making their escape, however, the convicts decide to return to prison!

Trochard insists on examining the books before going to bed.

Trochard tells Isabelle to forget about marrying Paul.

Rathbone plays the villain to perfection, but his appearance is brief and the role is not very challenging to Rathbone's talents. The other actors also contributed fine performances, making this a very enjoyable film. We don't see any of the swashbuckling sword fights which Michael Curtiz handles so well, yet his expert direction is evident in the pace of this film. It never lingers too long in one scene, but moves along swiftly to the next.

A diverting, if not hilarious, off-beat comedy is offered in "We're No Angels," which has been photographed in Technicolor and VistaVision. Centering around the amusing machinations of three convicts who escape from Devil's Island and use their "talents" to aid a kindly family they had planned to rob. The story, through farcical, has a somewhat macabre quality in that the convicts permit two ruthless relatives of the family to die from a poisonous snake bite merely by not warning them against the danger. Murder, as a general rule, is not a pleasant subject, but the light manner in which it has been treated is so humorous that one cannot help being amused. Besides, the murder victims are malicious persons and the spectator does not feel sympathy for them. Although one is kept chuckling throughout, there are moments when the farcical humor wears thin and the action slows down considerably. As a matter of fact, the action is confined to a few sets, giving one the impression of a photographed stage play. The acting is very good and so is the photography:

Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray escape from Devil's Island on Christmas Eve and hide out in a community adjoining the prison. Needing funds to finance their return to France, they enter a general store operated by Leo G. Carroll, pose as parolees from Devil's Island, and talk him into permitting them to perform some odd jobs for him around the store. The trio hoped to use the store as a place of refuge until Bogart, a forger managed to make three passports to get them off the island. While working around the shop, the men meet Joan Bennett, Carroll's wife, and Gloria Talbott, their pretty daughter, and from snatches of conversation they learn that the family was upset over the pending arrival of Basil Rathbone, Carroll's cousin, who was the ruthless and penny-pinching owner of the store. They feared that Rathbone would fire Carroll, whose books were in a hopeless state as a result of extending too much credit. Additionally, Rathbone objected to the love between Gloria and John Baer, his nephew and heir, whom he hoped to marry off to the daughter of a wealthy ship builder. Touched by the family's kindness when they are asked to remain overnight for Christmas dinner, the three convicts waver in their plan to rob and murder them. Rathbone arrives unexpectedly at midnight, accompanied by his nephew, and he proves to be so disagreeable that the three convicts decide that they would be doing the family a favor to dispose of him. As they figure out ways and means of killing him, Rathbone seals his own doom by unwittingly taking possession of a cage containing a small but venomous snake kept as a pet by the convicts. While the convicts slowly debate the advisability of warning Rathbone of his danger, the snake does its work well. Bogart immediately forges a will dividing Rathbone's estate between Baer and Carroll. In the morning, Baer is the first to find his uncle's body, and he destroys the will to make sure that he will inherit the entire estate. Convinced that Baer will be as ruthless as his uncle, the convicts see to it that he, too, is taken care of by the snake. After making sure that the family will inherit Rathbone's wealth, the three "angels" take their leave, but instead of heading for freedom they return to the prison, confident that life there will be much safer for them.

It was produced by Pat Duggan, and directed by Michael Curtis, from a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, based on a play by Albert Husson.

Adult fare.

Harrison's Reports, June 18, 1955, p. 100

Facts about Devil's Island:
Devil's Island was a French penal colony on an island off the coast of the South American country of French Guiana, in use from 1852 to 1946. It is the infamous disease-infested hell-hole from which Papillon* escaped, and definitely not the kind of place anyone would voluntarily return to, having once escaped. At least a dozen films have been made in which the plot takes place on Devil's Island, and most of those depict the horrors of the prison, horrors which included starvation and torture. Some criminals were permitted to work in the colony, which would explain why, in We're No Angels, neither the Ducotel family nor customers that come to the shop seem surprised that three convicts are working there. Paroled convicts would also work to earn their passage home.

*"Papillon" was the nickname of Henri Charriere, whose story was told in the 1973 film Papillon starring Steve McQueen.

Trochard pulls a gun on the convicts.

Andre and Paul Trochard decide to go over the books.

The 1989 movie "We're No Angels" starring Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn seems to be only loosely based on the 1955 film. The plot is very different, and the film does not advertise itself as either a remake of the 1955 film or a film based on a play by Albert Husson.

We're No Angels

There are people who will be shocked by this movie—it takes murder so gaily. for repressed characters like me it's delightful. Anybody who's under the thumb of a nasty, rich, tyrannical relative would hardly believe his good fortune if that relative went to bed one night in blooming health and did not wake up in the morning. And if the relative had a traveling companion and nephew just like him who succumbed to the same mysterious malady, that would be pushing luck too far. About as far as Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov push it. They are three escaped convicts loitering on Devil's Island, who invade the shop of Leo G. Carroll, his wife Joan Bennett and their daughter Gloria Talbot. The family only run the shop—and not very well—for their ruthless cousin. It's Christmas time and these convicts have murder and robbery in their minds, but their souls are made of finer stuff. they weep before kindness, melt before love. They'd be terribly frustrated if ruthless cousin (Basil Rathbone) and ruthless, jr., (John Baer) did not arrive to check up on the shop's books, books which prove Leo G. Carroll to be hopelessly inept. Well, those angelic convicts set things right for the meek and good of this world. Their methods are novel, but certainly efficient. VistaVision.—Para.

P.S. Enjoy yourself but remember it could only happen in a movie.

Modern Screen, August 1955, p. 22


Trochard points out the discrepancies in the books.

Trochard takes the cage containing Adolf.

See Page Two for screenshots from the film. See Page Three for pictures of posters, lobby cards and promo photos.


Humphrey Bogart ... Joseph
Aldo Ray ... Albert
Peter Ustinov ... Jules
Basil Rathbone ... Andre Trochard
Joan Bennett ... Amelie Ducotel
Leo G. Carroll ... Felix Ducotel
John Baer ... Paul Trochard
Gloria Talbott ... Isabelle Ducotel
Lea Penman ... Mme. Parole
John Smith ... Arnaud
Louis Mercier ... Celeste
George Dee ... Coachman
Torben Meyer ... Butterfly Man
Paul "Tiny" Newlan ... Port Captain
Ross Gould ... Foreman
Victor Romito ... Gendarme
Jack Del Rio ... Gendarme
Joe Ploski ... Customs Inspector
Production Company ... Paramount
Producer ... Pat Duggan
Director ... Michael Curtiz
Asst Director ... John Coonan
Screenplay ... Ranald MacDougall (based on a play by Albert Husson)
Cinematographer ... Loyal Griggs
Film Editing ... Arthur Schmidt
Music Composer ... Frederick Hollander
Art Directors ... Hal Pereira, Roland Anderson
Set Decorators ... Sam Comer, Grace Gregory
Special Effects ... John P. Fulton
Costume Design ... Mary Grant
Make Up ... Wally Westmore
Dialogue Assistant ... Norman Stuart
Sound Recording ... Hugo Grenzbach, John Cope
Technicolor Color Consultant ... Richard Mueller


We're No Angels is available on DVD

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Images on this page and page two are from the film "We're No Angels", copyright 1955 by Paramount.



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All original content is © Marcia Jessen, 2016