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REWIND : 'We're No Angels' Is an Enduring Film for All Seasons : Despite its Yule setting, the Humphrey Bogart-Peter Ustinov movie is enjoyable the year around.

January 20, 1994|DENNIS McLELLAN

The Christmas lights are back in storage, the New Year's diet is well under way and you swear your umpteenth viewing of "It's a Wonderful Life" is your last. But one Christmas-oriented film you may have overlooked--"We're No Angels"--is fun any time of year.

A light comedy set on Devil's Island in 1895, it stars Humphrey Bogart as a forger/embezzler, Aldo Ray as a slow-witted murderer, and Peter Ustinov as a safecracker with a penchant for manslaughter.

Bogart is said to have always had a special affection for this film, and it's easy to see why.

A trio of prison escapees (Bogart, Ray and Ustinov), seeking to shed their prison garb, are drawn into a clothing shop, where they pose as parolee carpenters who volunteer to fix the shopkeeper's leaky roof.

Their plan: to rob the shop in order to pay for passage back to France on the steamship anchored in the harbor.

But in the process of hanging around the store and its adjoining home, they get to know the inept shopkeeper (Leo G. Carroll) and his family--wife (Joan Bennett) and 18-year-old daughter (Gloria Talbott)--all too well and have a change of heart.

The shopkeeper is drowning in a sea of red ink, and to make matters worse, the recently arrived ship in the harbor has brought with it his tyrannical cousin Andre (Basil Rathbone), who plans to spend Christmas going over the books.

The three cons so ingratiate themselves with the family--serving as unconventional guardian angels--that they are invited to stay for Christmas dinner.

Bogart has no problem rounding up items for the dinner.

"You guys get everything ready--I'll go buy a turkey," he says.

Ustinov: "Did you say buy? "

Bogart: "Well, in honor of the season. It may take a little while. First I have to steal the money."

"We're No Angels," of course, has a happy ending, with Ray's deadly "pet" viper playing a pivotal role in the proceedings.

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