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Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Devil's Island Christmas

 



We're No Angels (1955) a Holiday Evergreen



A nice seasonal offering. I campus-played it not many years ago and the students liked it. Bogartians ignore or renounce We're No Angels as a stagy and unworthy thing done toward the end, but I'll bet he enjoyed the job better than most during the 50's. Bogart learned from The African Queen that an untapped audience, broader than he’d known before, was there and waiting to watch him work, given format beyond crime or dark topic. His casting in Sabrina was enabled by Queen, plus an Academy Award that proposed him for broader things. The 50’s may be where Bogart captured his widest popular audience, as in no one need be nervous going to see him. Was return to perceived type in The Desperate Hours a welcome one? Based on remarks he made at the time, Bogart suspected not. We’re No Angels is him settling comfortably into comedy, a garden I envision Bogart tilling often had fate been kinder (plan for he and Bacall to do what became Top Secret Affair … there were even costume tests). We’re No Angels dresses Bogart and fellow angels (Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray) in more/less pajamas, or attire as lounge-fitting. There is little outdoor work, virtually everything interior and dialogue-driven. It must have seemed to Bogie like being back on Broadway, minus the night work.




His part is that of benign crook, a role assumed over and again for radio guest sketches and personal apps. In fact, Bogart had played hoodlums, if at all, for comedy since the war (even at eve of conflict, All Through The Night), entertaining troops, though limited there as what could he do but parody the tough persona? There was TV opposite Jack Benny, the trench coat again to comic effect. Was it harder taking The Desperate Hours serious for his spoofing bad men so long? "Maybe I'm getting too old to play a hoodlum," was Bogart's answer to that film's tepid response from critics and public ($1.6 million in domestic rentals, well below what 50’s Bogart had been realizing). Anybody’s Christmas movie tended to become their best-remembered movie, J. Stewart with It’s A Wonderful Life, Crosby and White Christmas. Barbara Stanwyck said late in life that fan letters she received were mostly about Christmas In Connecticut. We're No Angels being plugged into TCM holiday schedule ties it closer to Yule ornaments, a cheery gift to unwrap each year. Better still is how We're No Angels looks, wide and lush color-rendered as 1955 saw it. Appearance of movies, as of people, is everything.





We're No Angels
had played legit as My Three Angels (1953-54) to 344 performances, where Walter Slezak had Bogart's part, Jerome Cowan and Darren McGavin in the Ustinov/Ray spots. Plays were still a safest source for ready-made properties; this one needed little for translate to movies, Paramount spending but $1.6 million to accomplish that. Bogart would probably have been paid around $200K for his end, or a percentage to assure at least that. He was relaxed and adept with the comedy, a good teammate to Ustinov and Aldo Ray. We're No Angels gets a mid-point goose when Basil Rathbone enters the fray as a Scrooge-like relation who's a threat to sympathetic Leo G. Carroll and Joan Bennett. The three Angel's disposal of villainy was surely negotiated in minute detail with Code watchers, as it comes close to getting away with murder --- in fact, two murders. We're No Angels brought $2.7 million in domestic rentals to Paramount; that plus reasonable foreign income would have put it in profit. There were two NBC network runs, the first on 12/9/64, these good for $200 or so K. The show now streams off several platforms in HD and looks like a million. There is also a Blu-Ray recently released.

9 Comments:

Blogger Kevin K. said...

My wife and I saw this a few holiday seasons ago. Surprisingly twisted comedy; my wife loved the fade-out. I, too, wish Bogie did more comedies. He really did seem like he had a good if dark sense of humor.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Thank you for spotlighting WE'RE NO ANGELS, one of my favorites. I run it every Christmas Eve and it never gets old.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

We’re doing a double feature today; my guest boyfriend chose Frozen (which I’ve never seen), and I had chosen Desk Set, but now I’m wavering!

Happy holidays, John et al...

10:12 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Christmas greetings from Bela Lugosi. Now that is a wonderful gift. Thank you.

10:42 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

"It's strange, it hurt a few minutes ago, but I don't feel anything now".

7:22 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

John -- I've been with you from the beginning and I love every post. Just wanted to let you know that I've done a podcast with Steven "Music by Max Steiner" Smith that pretends to be a tell-all autobiography of the most notorious movie goddess of the golden age. It's called "The Atomic Bombshell." Not looking for a mention or a blurb -- just thought you'd like it. Thanks for all the great work

8:49 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

The institution of the holiday classic on TV is fading away, like the tradition of the big holiday theatrical release (Remember when summer was for dumping throwaways instead of launching blockbusters?).

Once it was something of a communal experience like actual theatergoing, knowing millions of others were watching at the same time (allowing for time zones). Now we stream, or pull out a disc, or find a cable channel running it several times per season. Also, when a classic does air on commercial television, the mood is ruptured by modern commercials. Bring back the elves from "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer" shilling for small appliances.

I've accumulated a few boxes of official seasonal fare. Movies, TV specials, collections of shorts, festive snark by MST and Rifftrax, and outsized 60s musicals tied in memory to the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. A handful make the viewing list any given year. "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" and "One Hour in Wonderland" always get screen time.

Somehow the Robert Youngson films register as holiday fare, most likely from their yuletide appearances on local stations. And any animated features, apropos or not. These tended to be relics or oddball imports, since Disney dominated the genre and kept his hits off the airwaves. Now kids have scores of animated features, including the Disney classics, on tap 24/7. And uncut, restored silent shorts and features are even more accessible than some of the Youngson compilations. Now and again I almost miss the scarcity that made holiday viewing special.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

We're No Angels is a lot of fun, and it's nice to see it getting good press, however belatedly. I agree that Bogie's flair for comedy was never given enough play. I've always had a soft spot for It All Came True (1940), which may be the only specimen of what might be called "Bogart whimsy". In those days Warners were still casting about trying to figure out what to do with him. The next year he'd find his groove with the one-two punch of High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, and the twig was bent. In time the idea of a "Humphrey Bogart comedy" would become almost a does-not-compute oxymoron -- although honestly, I think we tend to overlook how really funny he is in Falcon.

1:12 AM  
Blogger TodBrowning said...

My 2nd favorite Christmas movie. Watch it every year for the droll delivery of lines such as: "He looks like a glass or milk," and "The second page, the deadly paragraph."

2:18 PM  

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