Ole dimple chin Robert Mitchum plays the captain of an American WW2 submarine destroyer. Here’s my review of The Enemy Below (1957)
Tagline – The death battle of the sub-killer and the killer-sub !
What’s going down?
Out patrolling the South Atlantic ocean is the American destroyer escort USS Haynes. Kitted out with the latest anti-submarine warfare. It’s job was to sweep the seas for that hidden devastating enemy, the German U-boat. The infamous and deadly torpedo submarines that hunted its prey like a wolf. The USS Haynes and it crew are lead by Captain Murrell (Robert Mitchum). A tough, experienced merchant marine now an active duty officer. The perfect match for the wily, war veteran of the U-boat Kapitän zur See von Stolberg (Curd Jürgens). What follows is a deadly cat and mouse trial of wits as they both try to out do each other. A battle that will test not only their wits but the strengths of their crew’s as well.
The main players
Robert Mitchum is Captain Murrell
Curd Jürgens is Kapitän zur See von Stolberg
Theodore Bikel is “Heinie” Schwaffer, second in command
David Hedison is Lieutenant Ware, executive officer
Russell Collins is Doctor
Kurt Kreuger is von Holem
Frank Albertson is Lieutenant Crain
Biff Elliot is Quartermaster
Tagline – The Amazing Story of the Destroyer Captain and the Sub Commander Tracking Each Other Down Across 1000 Miles Above and Below the Sea!
Sure I’ve seen them in something?
This section helps me link films that I’ve already done some reviews for and the opportunity for any of you kind readers to jump in with some recommendations. So please feel free throughout my blog to help nudge me on to great movies. It’s what I’m here for really.
Curd Jürgens is known for his roll as Karl Stromberg in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). He also popped up in the BBC’s Cold War series Smiley’s People. A veteran of heaps of German films which I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what to recommended so you know what to do.
Mitchum’s second in command is David Hedison and a very familiar face. He’s known for being in a submarine. As Captain Crane in the 60s classic series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. And also played the character Leiter in two Bond films. Live and Let Die (1973) and Licence to Kill (1989).
Kurt Kreuger is aboard the U-Boat and he featured recently on my blog alongside Humphrey Bogart in Sahara (1943)
Notes on production?
The Enemy Below is based on a novel from 1956 by a British Royal Navy Officer called Denys Rayner. Based on his own experiences with anti-submarine warfare throughout the Battle of the Atlantic.
The film is expertly directed and produced by the actor Dick Powell. I had reviewed his excellent debut directed film Split Second (1953) a few years ago. A couple of his acting ones I’ve reviewed are Cry Danger (1951) and Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) but also check Cornered (1945) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) which I’m still to see!
The screenplay was written by Wendell Mayes who would go on to write many amazing films for director Otto Preminger like Anatomy of a Murderer (1959) Advise and Consent (1962) and In Harm’s Way (1965). Also two classic 70s action films The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and the Bronson smasher Death Wish (1974).
Hits like a sledge hammer
There are two big monologues from the two captains. Both with heartbreaking stories that really hit home the sadness of war. The drive that carries each man to try and out wit and destroy the other. Yet the burden of death, fear of mistakes, the crew safety obligation and even their own pride and respect of each other sits heavy on their shoulders.
From the German submarine Kapitän Von Stolberg talking to his friend about how unhappy he is that Hilter has changed the way they fight. From recalling his pride fighting sub battles through WW1 to the recent deaths of his sons, dying unworthy deaths. It’s a dangerous, treasonous speech filled with deep emotion.
In similar vein Captain Murrell tells the story of how his last ship had been targeted and sunk with disastrous personal loss as he witnessed the death of his girlfriend in front of his eyes, just a finger tip away. Both speeches really set the tone of the film and give great depth to each character.
A few killer lines
Captain Murrell – “I have no idea what he is, what he thinks. I don’t want to know the man I’m… trying to destroy.“
Kapitän Von Stolberg – “It’s a bad war. It’s reason is twisted. It’s purpose is dark. It’s not for a simple man.“
Lucky I came back to this one. I had tried it last year but the beginning really put me off. The over patriotic, jingoistic music was one thing but thrown into the mix is Jeff Daley who plays a bit part Navy Seaman Corky. He towers over everyone and has the most unique overpowering voice. He really glares out at you. I know it sounds bad but it all really put me off. However I’m so pleased I went back and once you get past the beginning 10 minutes and you meet Curd Jürgens character everything falls perfectly into place. It really does.
With an essentially anti war message underpinned with the dialogue from the two captains. I read that Curd had said “This was an important picture for me because it was the first film after the war in which a German officer was not interpreted as a freak.”. You really feel for both sides. The emotional hook is definitely the heart of the film.
The full power of this cat and mouse game is surrounded with the deadliest of firepower. Shown spectacularly by the constant bombardment of hourly depth charge attacks. Blowing chunks out the ocean sending shock-wave after shock-wave towards the ever hidden submarine. The effects and sounds are incredible and I can only imagine the Navy was having a field day firing them off for production.
If you like your war films with a message then I can wholeheartedly recommend this film. The two performances from Robert Mitchum and Curd Jürgens are well worth your time.
Wolfman’s rating 8/10 IMDB 7.5/10
Feel free to recommend me related movies and any other trivia if you wish. Keep having fun at the movies…. Mikey Wolf