Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Enemy Below (1957)

THE ENEMY BELOW is a very fine WWII film depicting the cat and mouse game between a U.S. destroyer and a German U-boat in the Atlantic. It stars Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens and was directed by Dick Powell. The quality of this production underscores once more that Powell's early death in 1963 was a great loss to the world of entertainment.

Mitchum plays Captain Murrell, the new captain of a destroyer in the Atlantic. Murrell lost his last vessel and spent many days on a life raft, and prior to that he was in the merchant marine, losing his wife when his ship was sunk by a German sub. Some in the crew are skeptical about the captain's abilities, but when they have an encounter with a German U-boat he quickly wins their respect with his cagey maneuvers.

The destroyer and U-boat engage in an extended series of confrontations as the American and German captains try to anticipate each other's decisions. While the top priority is keeping their crews alive and winning the war, the captains develop a grudging admiration for each other's abilities. The battle comes to an end in a rather unexpected fashion.

THE ENEMY BELOW is, to start with, a film which looks and sounds great. The striking color CinemaScope photography was by Hal Rosson, and the excellent musical score was by Leigh Harline (SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, PINOCCHIO). Walter Rossi won the Oscar for Best Special Effects for this film. This is a top-drawer production in every regard.

Mitchum and Jurgens are both excellent as smart, thoughtful men; my only quibble is that I would have liked Mitchum to have more screen time. It felt as though the screen time tilted in favor of Jurgens, and while Jurgens is excellent, I was fascinated by the tactical thinking of Mitchum's character.  I would have liked to know more about how he became so educated in such a short naval career.

The film is somewhat unusual for World War II films insofar as it "humanizes" the men on the German sub; they have a job to do, they're scared, and some of them aren't big fans of Hitler. When the Germans end a period of silence by blasting a record and breaking out in song, Captain Murrell almost feels regretful he has to try to put an end to the merriment, but end it he must, or his destroyer will go down instead.

The crew on the destroyer includes Al (David) Hedison, Russell Collins, Frank Albertson, and a very young Doug McClure (THE VIRGINIAN). Clint Eastwood is listed as a seaman by IMDb. Theodore Bikel plays the second in command on the sub, and Kurt Kreuger is another German crew member.

The screenplay by Wendell Mayes was based on the novel by Commander D.A. Rayner.

I watched this film on a widescreen DVD from the Fox War Classics series. For the most part it's a good-looking DVD, although at times I felt that the CinemaScope picture was just a tad "squished" and distorted. The sound levels also seemed a bit erratic, causing me to raise and lower the TV volume a few times.

Amazon tells me this was a Christmas gift for my son all the way back in 2006; I think I was the last person in the family to catch up with this one!

The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

It's also available to rent or buy via streaming from Amazon Instant Video.

4 Comments:

Blogger dfordoom said...

One of the best war movies I've seen.

1:25 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

You know that Powell never again directed or produced a feature devoting his time almost exclusively to television.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

That's a coincidence—I just heard of this film for the first time this past week when I was browsing Amazon Instant looking for something to watch. Looking forward to seeing it at some point!

11:44 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Laura,

I was mistaken. There is another title, Also a war film, The Hunters, done the following year.

12:42 PM  

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