Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas 2016: December 21

We’re No Angels (1955)

Will any classic cinema fans stab me if I admit anything less then total affection for Humphrey Bogart? I really enjoyed “The Maltese Falcon” but have found most of his films to be rather disappointing. Then again, I'm still intrigued enough by the legend of Bogey to give some of his flicks a shot. Such as “We're No Angels,” a Christmas-set dark comedy he starred in from 1955. The film's director, Michael Curtiz, had a diverse career that winded through classic horror films like “Mystery at the Wax Museum,” to classic adventure films like “The Sea Hawk,” to highly regarded dramas like “Mildred Pierce,” to glitzy musicals like “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Most prominently to this review, Curtiz also made “Casablanca” and “White Christmas.” I'd be willing to take a chance on this one based on that resume.

Set during a balmy tropical December, three criminals escape the infamous Devil's Island prison colony. They hide out on a near-by island, posing as three convicts on a work release. They find employment at a small, family-owned shop. Initially, they claim to be there just to rob the place. Eventually, the three scoundrels find themselves growing attached to the family, especially the young daughter. When the asshole landowner of the shop threatens the family, the men find themselves working together to save their new friends.

If nothing else, “We're No Angels” has a great cast. The central trio is made up of Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov. Each part is seemingly tailor-made for the actors' established personas. Bogart's  Joseph has a slithering, snake-like charm. He nonchalantly speaks about the wicked acts he's performed in the past, while remaining likable, and even funny, to the audience. Ustinov's Jules is effete and literate, peppering his speech with high-brow phrases. Amusingly, Ustinov occasionally hints at the character's murderous past. Aldo Ray's Albert is a bulky simpleton with a kind heart but an occasionally casual attitude towards crimes. The banter the three share is probably the most endearing aspect of “We're No Angels.”

The idea of a band of crooked con men being won over by a family of wholesome folks isn't exactly a new idea, not even in 1955. “We're No Angels” gets passed how expected this outcome is in two ways. First off, it maintains the moral ambiguity of the criminals up until the very end. Secondly, it makes the family genuinely lovable. Leo G. Carroll and Joan Bennett have a genuinely lovable chemistry as the married couple. The age difference between them is acknowledged, and mostly overcomes, thanks to how much Bennett seems to care for the guy. Most notable is Gloria Talbott, who I recognize from creature features like “The Leech Woman” and “I Married a Monster from Outer Space,” as the daughter. Talbott projects a sense of wide-eyed innocence. She's so sweet that you genuinely buy a trio of heartless murderers falling for her.

“We're No Angels” provides decent laughs throughout, mostly thanks to the interplay between the actors. The scenes of Bogart acting as a store clerk are amusing, especially when he sells a man the same suit twice. More humor emerges when the story's villain, the cruel shop owner played by a perfectly bitchy Basil Rothbone. This pairs with the subplot concerning Talbott's love interest, Bothbone's equally greedy nephew. Another supporting player is Adolphe, Ray's pet snake. This reptilian ends up saving the day twice over, during an amusingly concise conclusion that wraps up all the script's lingering story lines.

“We're No Angels” was based off a stage play, which is quite evident at times. Most of the film is set inside the shop. It's even easy to imagine how the convicts, stepping from the ceiling through a moon roof, would play out on stage. Despite being set around the holidays, and featuring a Christmas tree in a few scenes, “We're No Angels” isn't especially heavy on the seasonal atmosphere. Setting your Christmas movie in the tropics will do that for you. Though not especially well regarded, “We're No Angels” is well-known enough to have been loosely remade in 1989. That version totally dropped the Christmas connection, meaning I'll never have to watch it. As for the original, it's a charming, suitably entertaining comedy. [7/10]

Space Ghost: Coast to Coast: A Space Ghost Christmas

Among 2016's staggering list of celebrity causalities was C. Martin Croker. As the voice of Zorak and Moltar on “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast,” Croker made essential contributions to my developing, boyhood sense of humor. Disappointingly, the prototype to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block never had a proper Christmas episode. However, on Christmas day in 1994, Cartoon Network did create some unique, holiday-themed wrap-around segments for a”SG:C2C”  marathon. This “Space Ghost Christmas” survives as a DVD bonus feature and internet short. Naturally, the collection of skits are almost plotless, revolving around Space Ghost forcing his super villain co-host to perform a series of Christmas songs.

Since “A Space Ghost Christmas” was designed to be played during the daytime, it doesn't feature as much surreal humor and naughty swearing as the regular episodes do. The gags are toned down to merely ridiculous, instead of the show's usual totally insane tone. However, there are still some bits worth praising. Such as Space Ghost's bizarre invitation for Zorak to join him under the mistletoe. Or the superhero forcing director Moltar to literally rewind a scene. As always, the voice cast blend totally straight line-readings with goofy inflections.

Most of “A Space Ghost Christmas' revolves around the goofy, holiday song parodies. Zorak, despite wearing a Santa hat, rarely plays along with the festivities. He literally clicks his way through “Up on the Rooftop.” Later, he fills the chorus of “Deck the Halls” with “gabba gabba hey.” This seems to foreshadow the punk rock variation on “Jingle Bells” the mantis later performs. Afterwards, Space Ghost drags more of his D-list rogues gallery – including such luminaries as Tansit and break-out character Brak – to perform an especially bizarre version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The episode concludes with the whole cast coming together for a riotous slaughtering of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” First, they mix “Happy Birthday” into the Christmas carol before throwing seemingly every other holiday into the song.

As always, there's no guarantee that this kind of gleefully stupid absurdity will appeal to everyone. I find it pretty funny though. While “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast” would never feature a full-length holiday episode, Santa Claus would appear in a future installment. Maybe I should watch that one next December? You can bet on it. [7/10]

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