The Enemy Below Reviews
Mitchum and Curt Jurgens, by now established actors, are portrayed as two philosophers in uniform. The humane, as opposed to the often told inhumane, side of war and the toll it takes on these two captains is refreshingly explored.
Our U.S. ship and crew are bored floating around in the south Atlantic. They get a new captain who the ship's aged doctor befriends. Mitchum, fresh out of the hospital after having survived at sea, is treated skeptically by the crew who believe he is inexperienced for the job. They soon learn he isn't as bad as they imagined. But where he got his sub chasing skills we don't know. Hey, its a movie ok?
The film was based on a popular book at the time, The Enemy Below. Director Dick Powell makes an over selling trailer about the film, but that's what trailers often do, oversell.
I tend to watch trailers after I watch a film and not often find them very honest. For me, such was the case here.
Filmed in Cinemascope the movie is pretty well done, but the depth charges got to be endless and like two heavyweight boxers getting tired of throwing punches, the film sinks to the canvass as we wait for this one to end.
It does end, a creative but rather unrealistic one. Both captains sharing cigarettes on a ship was flat out Hollywood and to me, not real honest. After an hour and a half of trying to kill each other, this film becomes a morality play. Maybe things like this really did happen at sea?
Run Silent, Run Deep is my pick over The Enemy Below as an action flick. The scene that sunk this film for me was the Germans singing an old drinking song as they were near death's door on the bottom. By that time I got the message about what war does to combatants. The German captain spells it out clear as day when he complains that humans were taken out of wars.
I would wish to see a vintage WWII submarine film where for once the enemy is not sweating, in their underwear, running around oily and desperate. Where, unlike this film, the captain is not aged and tired of war. Of course, our Navy men are fresh as daisys, playing cards or doing whatever sailors do for relaxation.
To its credit however we don't see too many scenes of carnage in this late fifties sea chase. What we do see is two crews, two ships and two captains alone at sea doing what they'd rather not be doing.
There in a nutshell is the summation of The Enemy Below. The irony of it all. One could have just as well titled this one The Enemy Above.
NOTES about the film:
1 Curt Jürgens as Captain Von Stolberg in reality was imprisoned by order of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels during World War II.
2 Theodore Bikel played the second in command to Curt Jurgens in reality was an immigrant Austrian Jew who was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1924. He and his family fled to America by way of Palestine in 1937.
3 The U-boat in the film is very unrealistic in its size. It has passageways and side rooms, with the captain having a private stateroom off the control center. No World War II U-boat had staterooms and the captain's bunk was little more than a shelf across a small passage from the radio room, which was itself merely a small closet.
4 The crew in this film is also much neater and cleaner than a real crew would have been. (For a more realistic portrayal of life aboard a U-boat, see Das Boot).
5 The 1966 Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror" is closely based on this film, with the USS Enterprise cast as the destroyer and the Romulan vessel as the U-boat.
Directed by legend actor Dick Powell
Produced by legend actor Dick Powell
Written by Wendell Mayes
Denys Rayner (novel)
Music by Leigh Harline
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Editing by Stuart Gilmore
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) December 25, 1957 (NYC premiere)
Robert Mitchum as Captain Murrell
Curt Jürgens as Kapitän von Stolberg. (see NOTE 1)
Theodore Bikel as 'Heinie' Schwaffer, von Stolberg's second in command. (see NOTE 2)
Al Hedison as Lieutenant Ware, the executive officer of the Haynes
Russell Collins as Doctor, USS Haynes
Kurt Kreuger as Von Holem
Frank Albertson as Lieutenant Junior Grade Crain, USS Haynes
Biff Elliot as Quartermaster, USS Haynes
Doug McClure, in his film debut, as Ensign Merry, USS Haynes
Running time 98 minutes
The depiction of the action is pretty good by the standards of the day, although the plot is somewhat predictable. The destroyer escort depicted is accurate as to class, and actual crew of a real US destroyer escort were extras in the film. The U-Boat set is less impressive, and fails to capture the cramped nature of the small German boats in the Atlantic. Das Boot still remains the best of this genre, but Enemy Below is pretty competent as to tactics and devices used. Based on a book by a former British Navy officer, the whole scenario closely resembles similar ram-and-sink incidents in the North Atlantic convoy actions.
Robert Mitchum played a number of naval officers during his long and varied career, but this is one of his better gutsy performances.