Set during the Battle of Atlantic during the Second World War, "The Enemy Below" tells the story of the cat and mouse Destroyer escort/U-Boat hunt. For the Americans, a former Merchant Mariner who saw his wife killed when his freighter was torpedoed by the Germans. For the Germans, a veteran U-Boat commander who sees no honor in the German aims of the war. Both of these highly experienced men must now battle each other, knowing that only one will survive.
Robert Mitchum ... Capt. Murrell
Curd J?rgens ... Von Stolberg (as Curt Jurgens)
David Hedison ... Lt. Ware (Executive Officer [XO]) (as Al Hedison)
Theodore Bikel ... 'Heinie' Schwaffer
Russell Collins ... Doctor
Kurt Kreuger ... Von Holem
Frank Albertson ... Lt. (j.g.) Crain
Biff Elliot ... Quartermaster
"The Enemy Below" released in 1957, was one of those films directed by Dick Powell, and starring Robert Mitchum, that sparked with genuine realism and utmost attention to detail. This film also showed the harsh realities in war, and the dedication that men on both sides of the conflict can give to the task appointed. Mitchum plays the commander of a US Naval vessel that has the task of seeking out and destroying enemy submarines; having just recently lost one command, he is going to make sure such doesn't happen twice. The renowned German actor, Curt Jurgens, portrays the submarine commander whose presence has been detected by Mitchum's destroyer, and the chase is on.
Both commanders, Mitchum and Jurgens, in their characters, reveal that each was firm in their beliefs toward their respective countries. While Jurgens is not a gung-ho Nazi, he does have a firm dedication to his fatherland, and what it was before the war. Mitchum has the same firm devotion to his country, and what he is doing is the right course to bring a successful ending to the war, ultimately. There is a lot of verbal discussion during the course of the film, who is right, why are we engaged in this action, etc., but both commanders are desperately trying to out think and outmaneuver the other.
There were several good movies made during the 50s, this film, "The Enemy Below",and "Run Silent, Run Deep" come to mind, and are certainly worth a view. This film does give a look at both sides involved in the type of chase done here.
Although a number of years after this picture was released, I served for 2-1/2 years as an officer on a U. S. Navy ship, so I gained an extra enjoyment and appreciation for this movie. This was especially true with regard to the realistic shipboard filming. On many other "Navy" flicks," even where well-done, you can't help but imagine the actors walking away from their "ships" at the end of the day's scenes - and proceeding about a hundred paces out the door and into the Hollywood parking lot. Not so here.
In all the history of "talking pictures," from 80 or so years ago, there probably haven't been any two famous, leading actors more reserved, low-key, and phlegmatic than Mitchum and Jergens. They might even be 1-2 (in either order) on such a list.
However, and especially together, as the American and German adversaries, this style works perfectly - and an already-excellent production is all the better for it. Again, in other naval films, the captain spends much of the time shouting frantic directives, and you still know he's doing this only a few hundred feet from his car in the lot outside the sound stage. Bob and Curt bring a calm, deliberate, realistic and intelligent perspective to their characters.
In addition, the American and German captains were not the extremely-opposite caricatures so often portrayed in war films.
This picture has shown frequently recently, and I've enjoyed it every time I was able to catch it.
Not as claustrophobic or psychologically haunting as the German film "Das Boot", this film is still an intriguing war time drama with plenty of action. Richard Widmark is perhaps too confident in his role as Captain Murrell, as there is rarely the hint that the Americans are at risk, particularly after the clever maneuver to avoid the first two German torpedoes. Even though it made me wonder how naval commanders could be so in tune to their opponents' strategy, that was one of the elements of the story that kept things interesting right up to the finale.
Another reviewer rightly mentioned the point of Von Stolberg (Curt Jurgens) consistently returning to a heading of one hundred forty degrees; steering off course during maneuvers would have required the use of a different vector to get back on track. That had me wondering too, perhaps it was done to emphasize Von Stolberg's intent to remain on course for home port. Alternatively, citing different degree headings would probably have wound up confusing the viewer, so having the two captains stay consistent with the same direction probably made sense.
The movie serves as a fairly effective anti war statement, both commanders express sentiments in that regard. Von Stolberg's conversation with Heinie (Theodore Bikel) laments that the technology aboard the sub has not only taken human error out of war, but the human as well. Later in the film as the confrontation escalates, Murrell acknowledges the impersonal nature of his mission - "I don't want to know the man I'm trying to destroy". Both men have been hardened and disheartened by war. It's one of the reasons Murrell and Von Stolberg are able to have mutual respect for each other as warriors when circumstances conspire for them to meet on a personal level.
Another point bears mentioning relative to comparisons with "Das Boot", interestingly, Von Stolberg demonstrates a low regard for Hitler in a number of instances just like Jurgen Prochnow's character did in the other film. In the scene showing the Nazi slogan on board the sub, 'Fuhrer Befiehl Wir Folgen', Von Stolberg summarily throws a coat over the word 'Fuhrer' to demonstrate his contempt. His reactions to officer Kunz, who never misses a chance to glorify the Fuhrer, also indicate that he's no fan of the old Schickelburger.
For a production dating back to 1957, the movie holds up well in the action department, the scenes of the American vessel attacking with depth charges are especially effective, and without the use computer enhancement. Certainly as picture making technology and realism in film advanced, subsequent movies like "Das Boot" (1981) and "The Hunt For Red October" (1990) offer a lot more tension and adrenaline rush. Even though comparisons among them might not be entirely fair for that reason, you can still manage a pretty good thrill ride from "The Enemy Below".
* The original "Star Trek" (1966) episode "Balance of Terror" was based almost entirely on this film
* Two endings were shot: In one, both commanders die; in the other, a third vessel rescues them. The final ending was determined by preview results. The USS Haynes was portrayed by the USS Whitehurst, captained by Walter R. Smith, who received a "technical advisor" credit and can be seen portraying the ship's chief engineer. Eva Novak can be seen in a photo as the wife of Von Stolberg.
* The tune sung by the U-Boat crew on the ocean floor between depth charge attacks is from an 18th century march called "Der Dessauer Marsch". As a more popular song, it's also known by the first line of lyrics: "So leben wir".
* The slogan in the U-boat (Fuhrer Befiehl Wir Folgen) translates into "We Follow (the) Fuhrer's Orders." As well, the sign was misspelled by the production crew. It SHOULD read "Fuehrer befehl, wir folgen dir," which translates as "Fuehrer lead, we follow you."
* The American ship used in this movie was a Destroyer Escort by the name "USS Whitehurst", "DE 634". My father was in the Navy at that time, and he helped paint over the 634 so the new number could be added. FYI, the USS Whitehurst was sunk as a target for a new torpedo on 28 APRIL 1971.
* Average Shot Length = ~8.7 seconds. Median Shot Length = ~6.3 seconds.