Wednesday, July 13, 2011

THE ENEMY BELOW (1957) - Awesome naval war flick

The 50s was a great decade for war movies. With WWII still fresh in people's minds and the easy pickings for villains (everyone hates the Nazis), the studios churned out tons of war movies. A lot of them were crap, but thankfully there were some real gems in the mix. The Enemy Below is one of them. I'd say it is the best submarine movie ever made aside from 1981's Das Boot. The setting is the Atlantic Ocean as the Second World War rages on and Nazi Germany's dreaded U-boats are sinking American ships at an alarming rate. The fate of the war rests in the hands of the Allied sailors as they fight a brutal naval war against Hitler's deadly submarines.

Filmed aboard real subs and ships and with real bombs going off. Awesome.
The destroyer USS Haynes is alone in the vast Atlantic and on the prowl, looking for Hitler's submarines.  Aboard the Haynes, the bored sailors go about their daily tasks and complain about their lack of combat action. Everybody wants to get their chance to hunt some Nazis down. Rumors spread about the ship's new captain, since some of the men are worried that the skipper Captain Murrell (Robert Mitchum), an ex-reserve officer whose last ship was torpedoed, might not have what it takes to lead the ship. Suddenly, the sonar room detects an unknown contact. Fearing that it might be a German sub, Captain Murrell is brought to the bridge.

Robert Mitchum as the smart and determined skipper.
Below the water, a U-boat silently stalks the the destroyer. Commanding the sub is Kapitan von Stolberg (Curt Jürgens), an experienced and battle-hardened man with nerves of steel. Von Stolberg is a veteran of World War I, has lost both his sons to the war, has no love for Hitler or his cronies, and has become disillusioned with the war and the state of his beloved Germany. Nonetheless, he is totally committed to ensuring that his men come home safely and complete their grim mission. He is Captain Murrell's worst nightmare - a master at tactics, fearless, and an overall cool cat.

Sneaky Nazi bastards...
A tense, dangerous game of cat and mouse begins as the Americans try to pin-point the location of the U-boat, while the Germans do their best to avoid being blown to bits. The hours turn to days as the two captains out fox each other in their desperate attempts to gain the upper hand. The morale of both ships begins to suffer from the tension of the deadly game of hide and seek, as the U-boat tries to hide from the American sonar and dodges the endless depth charge barrages, and the American frustration grows as the Germans refuse to give in. Some of the best scenes in the movie don't need explosions to create excitement. They come from the thrill of the chase, as both crews plan and pull off their attacks and react to their enemy, knowing that a single mistake will likely end up killing them.

A likable German in a WWII movie? Say it ain't so!
Filmed in the good old days of practical effects and with the Navy's help, The Enemy Below boasts some impressive action scenes. As the Haynes bears down on the Germans, they rain down murderous depth charge attacks on the Nazi sub. These scenes are filmed with real depth bombs going off, while the underwater scenes are convincingly done with models that hold up pretty well even today. The acting from Mitchum and Jurgens is top notch. They're both great at portraying the reluctant but determined hero types, and aside from some sappy, emotional scenes at the end, they mostly eat up the screen.

This will not end well.
The Enemy Below is a damn good war movie, and despite the ending, which I found to be a bit too sentimental, it's got plenty of thrills and holds up well as an action movie even today. It set the standard for all the other naval combat movies that followed, and newer flicks like Crimson Tide, U-571 and Hunt for Red October all draw from it. Mitchum and Jurgens are in top form, the action scenes are realistic and it has a sense of realism that was untouchable until the definitive sub movie of all time Das Boot came out decades later. A true classic.

TL;DR - Riveting, epic battle between Nazis and Americans on the high seas - 9/10


  1. Wow! And I thought Crimson or Red were the best. Guess I was wrong.

  2. Such a timeless classic. This blog is so very much relevant to my interests and I shall follow you now sir.

  3. as much as I love CGI sometimes I long for the old days when everything didn't look like a giant cartoon. Thanks for suggesting this flick.