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

Andre and Paul Trochard arrive at the Ducotel shop 
"We're No Angels" is a delightful and entertaining comedy based on a popular French play by Albert Husson called "La Cuisine des Anges" (Cooking with Angels). In 1953 the play opened on Broadway as "My 3 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 minor but crucial role of Andre Trochard. 

Ustinov, Rathbone and BogartUstinov, Bogart and Ray play three convicts who have escaped from Devil's Island 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."

From the roof the three convicts overhear family discussions and learn of their financial difficulties and the daughter's failing romance. 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."

Andre Trochard and Joseph exchange words
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 takes the books before Joseph can alter the figures

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."

Joseph forges Andre Trochard's signature to a will leaving everything to 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.Trochard pulls a gun on Jules (Ustinov) and Joseph (Bogart)

The doctor who comes to the house to sign the death certificate is perfect 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!

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.

Facts about Devil's Island:
Devil's Island was a French penal colony in Guyana, 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.

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.

Trochard takes the basket containing Adolf the snake
Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, and Basil Rathbone

See Page Two for more pictures from "We're No Angels"

Cast

Credits

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 Co. ....................Paramount
Producer..............................Pat Duggan
Director...........................Michael Curtiz
Screenplay............Ranald MacDougall
(based on a play by Albert Husson)
Cinematographer..............Loyal Griggs 
Editor.............................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

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, 2007