I wrote this film review several years ago, and I think it's worth repeating. I finally found "We're No Angels." on DVD and watched it while decorating the tree this past weekend. You should watch it, too.
We're No Angels is a Christmas favorite (a favorite of mine, anyway), starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray. It is not to be confused with the crap version starring Sean Penn and Robert Deniro.
This is the story of three convicts who escape from Devil's Island and find themselves in a bustling village at Christmas time. Their intent is to pillage from this unsuspecting community and then escape by ship--there is a ship anchored just off shore.
They stumble into a shop, a kind of general store run by a quiet man, his wife, and grown daughter, and they offer to "fix the leaky roof." While they are on this roof, they crawl from sky light to sky light observing this family and their troubles, and they work out their plot.
Bogart: we'll climb down off this roof and cut his throat for a Christmas present.
Ustinov: That's the kind of thing that could make you stop believing in Santa Claus
But once they get off of the roof and get to know this family and the threat that plagues them--a cold hearted skinflint cousin who owns the business and demands profit when there is none--they decide to be friend instead of foe.
Basil Rathbone plays the heartless cousin, and he has traveled to this unpleasant village by ship, the same ship that sits in the harbor waiting to be cleared by health officials. He has brought his protegee along who he is grooming to take over the family finances. They plan to review the books over Christmas, and if the store isn't prospering, they'll take it away from the family and send them packing
The stress of the situation, given the store is not prospering, makes the father wish he were an alcoholic. "I wish I was a drunkard. I wish I was dead. I wish I was a dead drunkard." But fortunately, the convicts have brought along a pet, a poisonous snake named Adolf, which will serve as a handy weapon to...um...eliminate the threat.
Here's the spoiler--so turn the other way if you don't want to know how the story ends--after the family has been got out of their dilemma and the convicts have had a most delightful Christmas away from Devil's Island, they agree to give up their escape plans and go back to prison. As they put it, "you certainly meet a better class of people."
Surprisingly, Bogart does comedy very well, as does Ustinov. It's this film that makes me wonder about how easy it is to laugh at murder. It seems there are some murders that make me cringe and weep for the collective soul of humanity, and there are some murders that make me chuckle and adore my fellow man.
I remember very clearly the first time I saw this film. It was Christmas Eve, and I think I was twelve or so. My sisters had come home for the holiday, and I had given up my room to sleep on the couch in front of the TV. While everyone else slept, I flipped through channels for something to watch late at night. I found We're No Angels, and I settled in on my madeup bed on the couch with quilts and pillows, and I thought it was the most perfect Christmas Eve, with a clear night sky full of stars and the flickering light from the TV changing the shadows on the ceiling.