Charley and the Angel

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Charley and the Angel Movie Poster Image
Wholesome, life-affirming family tale has some violence.
  • G
  • 1973
  • 93 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Entire movie is about taking time to appreciate people and moments in your life before it's too late. Love, between couples and families, conquers all. Children thrive on positive parental attention. Crime doesn't pay. A young woman should be allowed to choose her romantic partners. Radio advertises "Romance can come, even after 35."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Charley goes from ignoring his kids and wife, and being eternally grumpy with them, to literally saving their lives and giving them his full love and attention. The kids blame their dad's absence for their own mistakes and disappointments, and turn to a neighbor dad as a substitute. Charley tries to convince one of his daughter's suitors that she's already "going steady" with another, "a substantial young man," and tells Leonora, "You'll never get a husband that way." She replies, "Who said I was looking for one?" and then acts independently, eloping with the beau of her choice. Young boys get a labor-intensive job for 10 cents an hour and do their best at it. A man employs underage kids to deliver bootleg liquor, unbeknownst to them, and to drive his dilapidated car. A gangster threatens the lives of adults and kids.


Charley walks away unscathed from several near-fatal accidents and incidents, including heavy items falling near his head, car crashes, people shooting at him. A young child driving a car almost crashes and nearly runs over a woman and her dog two times, the latter played for laughs. Ray gets a black eye in a fight (not shown). Chicago gangster with gun threatens adults and kids, forcing a child to drive his getaway vehicle, knocking out a partner with a blow to the head, sequestering kids in their own home, engaging in a shoot-out that includes a bullet aimed at Charley. A car chase sends drivers veering through neighborhoods, knocking a ladder out from under a worker, crashing without any major injuries. Police chase Charley's car with guns drawn and find a machine gun in the backseat.


Leonora is dating two different boys, including on the same night. She and Ray hug and kiss. Ray keeps Leonora out all night with excuse they were just having fun dancing. A woman is sent by female owner of bootleg club to join Charley at his table because she hears he's "looking for a little company." Charley stops Nettie from undressing in their bedroom because invisible angel Roy is watching. Leonora elopes with Ray, and Nettie says they must be stopped before they "do something." Charley hears Leonora and Ray, now a married couple, giggling in her bedroom. Charley gives his wife a passionate kiss goodbye.


Mild insults like "loonybird," "chum," "lounge lizard," "yacking broad," and "boob."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A subplot involves gangsters bootlegging liquor, also referred to as "hooch," to an illegal club. Charley orders a lemonade without knowing it has alcohol in it. A worker jokes that if he felt like drinking on the job he'd "stop working." Gangsters smoke cigarettes. Charley smokes a pipe. Some drinking-related jokes include "You better sober up" and "Let me smell your breath."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Charley and the Angel is a wholesome, 1930s-set tale about family love with some sweet scenes involving an unlikely angel named Roy, but there are more mature subplots concerning a daughter eager to wed her handsome beau, and violent Chicago gangsters bootlegging alcohol. The daughter's dating life leads to a bit of sexual innuendo that only older kids are likely to pick up on, and the same goes for the Depression-era bootlegging theme. But younger kids could be upset by events in the film's third act, set up as a cops-and-robbers caper with Charley's two young sons pushed unwittingly to the center as bootleg delivery boys, getaway-vehicle drivers, and ultimately hostages held at gunpoint. Young viewers might also feel worried after Charley is told he's going to die that night, and sad for the two brothers, who yearn in vain for their father's attention. Mild language includes insults like "loonybird," "chum," "lounge lizard," "yacking broad," and "boob."

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What's the story?

Charley (Fred MacMurray), the title character in CHARLEY AND THE ANGEL, is an honest, small-town storekeeper who seems to have forgotten the truly important things in life. His wife (Cloris Leachman) is resigned to his indifference, his teenage daughter (Kathleen Cody) runs a little wild, and his two sons (Vincent Van Patten and Scott Kolden) have sought out the attention of a neighborhood dad to fulfill Charley's neglected role. Then Charley gets a visit from his guardian angel, Roy (Harry Morgan), who tells him his time's up and he should get his affairs in order. That prophecy pushes Charley to rethink his entire life, becoming a more generous father and husband, a transformation that could give him a shot at avoiding imminent death. His transformation will only be complete, and his life potentially saved, if he can rescue his sons from violent Chicago gangsters, set his daughter and new son-in-law (Kurt Russell) up for their future, and reward his wife with her dream trip to the Chicago World's Fair.

Is it any good?

There's something for everyone in this comedy. Charley and the Angel opens with a title telling us we're in "Midwest, USA, 1933," setting the stage for an everyman tale with a universal moral set against tough times, but the snappy music assures us we're not in for anything too heavy. There's comedy, embodied by Harry Morgan's droll angel, a dapper old guy with a heart of gold who doesn't look the part but can work a bit of otherworldly magic, thanks to some clunky '70s-era effects. There's drama, as we aren't sure of Charley's fate until the very end of the movie. There's suspense in the gangster plot, and there's a happy ending when Charley rediscovers his passion for life and his family gets their ideal dad/husband.

In a familiar stable of Disney actors, the versatile Morgan as the angel Roy shines especially bright. Displaying a childlike joy for what he's left behind in human life, roller skating and offering a leg-kicking dance while playing a tennis racket like a banjo, Morgan expertly delivers deadpan lines like "If your life has been as dull as this, you're probably glad it's over" and "Sorry, Charley." Some aspects of Charley could rub contemporary audiences the wrong way, like the total lack of diversity in this Midwest town, the over-the-top gangster scenario, or the outdated gender roles. Others could offer food for thought, like how inventive the kids are with their endless, tech-free afternoons.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the time period Charley and the Angel is set in, 1933. What was the Great Depression? What was Prohibition? Who were some notorious Chicago gangsters?

  • At the end of the movie, Charley says he "learned how to live." What does he mean by this? What lessons can you take from Charley's experience, and how would you apply them to your own life?

  • What did you think of how the angel Roy was portrayed? Is this a usual portrait of angels? If you had a guardian angel, how would you imagine him or her?

  • Charley's sons don't have internet or TV. How do they keep busy? How do you think you would like living in a time before these technological advances?

  • Does this film fit into any single genre? Why or why not?

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