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USA 1957
Directed by
Dick Powell
98 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Enemy Below, The

Despite an unpromising opening that makes it look as if it will be a stock-standard flag-waver, The Enemy Below based on a novel by D. A. Rayner,  is an involving WWII/submarine film directed by, of all people, 1930’s crooner and actor, Dick Powell who helmed a number of films in the 1950s (he would direct Mitchum again the following year in the Korean war drama, The Hunters). It is a work distinguished by an unusually even-handed approach to the opposing sides of the conflict as Robert Mitchum’s Capt. Murrell, the commander of a US Navy destroyer pursues a German sub commanded by Curt Jürgens’ Capt.Von Stolberg.

Although it gets a little too carried away with its didactic purpose in the latter stages for the most part the film gives a credible portrait of decent men placed in circumstances in which they must kill or be killed.  Von Stolberg is a war-weary old sea dog, a veteran of WWI, who has no-time for the clinical technological developments of modern warfare and despises the Fuhrer for having led Germany into an ignoble war.  Murrell joined the Navy after his wife died on a ship torpedoed by a submarine. He is not however driven by revenge like Clark Gable’s Capt Richardson in Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) but rather, one feels, committed to preventing similar tragedies.

Powell goes to considerable length to achieve authenticity.  The cat-and-mouse manoueverings of the two vessels are followed in considerable detail, the interior of the sub is recreated with impressive fidelity, the physical cost of war in terms of injury and death are foregrounded and although the scenes in the sub are spoken entirely in English, the speaking parts are played entirely by German and Austrian actors. There is very little in the way of dramatic action with the two sides entirely separated from each other until the symbolically over-freighted ending but the tension builds nicely as the two men try to outwit each other with varying results. Both Mitchum and Jürgens are metaphorically as well as literally commanding in their role

The Cinemascope film won an Oscar for its special effects and for the most part they are well integrated with the live action, only at the end the model work looking a little obvious. The Enemy Below is far from subtle but its philosophical tendencies, particularly for the time, give it a watchability over above its solid rewards as an WWII actioner.




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