The Enemy Below
|The Enemy Below|
|Directed by||Dick Powell|
|Produced by||Dick Powell|
|Written by||Wendell Mayes
Denys Rayner (novel)
|Music by||Leigh Harline|
|Editing by||Stuart Gilmore|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release dates||December 25, 1957 (NYC premiere)|
|Running time||98 minutes|
The Enemy Below is a 1957 war film which tells the story of the battle between the captain of an American destroyer escort and the commander of a German U-boat during World War II. The movie stars Robert Mitchum and Curt Jürgens and was directed and produced by Dick Powell. The film was based on a novel by Denys Rayner, a British naval officer involved in anti-submarine warfare throughout the Battle of the Atlantic.
The American Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Haynes detects and attacks a German U-boat that is on its way to rendezvous with a German merchant raider in the South Atlantic Ocean. Captain Murrell (Robert Mitchum), a former officer in the merchant marine now an active duty lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve, has recently taken command of the Haynes, even though he is still recovering from injuries incurred in the sinking of his previous ship. Before the U-boat is first spotted, one sailor questions the new captain's fitness and ability. However, as the battle begins, Murrell shows himself to be a match for wily U-boat Kapitän von Stolberg (Curt Jürgens) (portrayed as not enamoured with the Nazi regime) in a prolonged, deadly battle of wits that tests both men and their crews. Each man grows to respect his opponent.
In the end, von Stolberg takes advantage of Murrell's predictable pattern of attacks and succeeds in torpedoing the destroyer. However, Murrell has one last trick up his sleeve. He orders his men to set fires on the deck to make the ship look more damaged than it actually is. As Murrell had hoped, von Stolberg decides to torpedo the destroyer on the surface. Murrell orders full speed and rams the U-boat. Von Stolberg orders his crew to set the sub's detonators and abandon ship.
Murrell, the last man aboard, is about to join his crew in the lifeboats when he spots von Stolberg trapped on the conning tower of the U-boat with his injured executive officer, Korvettenkapitän Heini Schwaffer (Theodore Bikel). Von Stolberg salutes Murrell, who returns it. Murrell tosses a line to the submarine and pulls the injured XO on board while von Stolberg climbs hand over hand to the Haynes. Once on board, it is clear Schwaffer is dying and von Stolberg refuses to leave his friend behind. A crew in a lifeboat returns to the ship to help the three men off the doomed ship. They manage to clear the tangled wrecks just before the sub explodes. Later, aboard another American ship, the Germans consign Schwaffer's body to the deep, as the American crew watches respectfully.
Changes from the book
The movie script differs substantially from the original book. The ship is changed from British to American. More importantly, the final scenes of mutual respect and potential friendship between the protagonists is not at all how the book ends. In the book the destroyer captain hates the German captain so much he takes a swing at him while they're in the lifeboat. The movie also vaguely alludes to the "enemy" being evil (or the devil), not particularly the Nazis ("You cut off one head and it grows another..."). This gives the title "The Enemy Below" a double meaning not at all present in the movie.
- Robert Mitchum as Captain Murrell
- Curt Jürgens as Kapitän von Stolberg. Jürgens was imprisoned by order of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels during World War II.
- Theodore Bikel as Korvettenkapitän 'Heinie' Schwaffer, von Stolberg's second in command. Bikel is an immigrant Austrian Jew who was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1924. He and his family fled to America by way of Palestine in 1937.
- Al Hedison as Lieutenant Ware, the executive officer of the Haynes
- Russell Collins as Doctor, USS Haynes
- Kurt Kreuger as Von Holem
- Frank Albertson as Lieutenant, Junior Grade Crain, USS Haynes
- Biff Elliot as Quartermaster, USS Haynes
- Doug McClure, in his film debut, as Ensign Merry, USS Haynes
The destroyer escort USS Haynes was portrayed by USS Whitehurst (DE-634), filmed in the Pacific Ocean near Oahu, Hawaii. Many of the Whitehurst's crewmen acted in the film: The phone talkers, the gun and depth charge crews, the sailor fishing, and all of the men seen abandoning ship, were Whitehurst sailors. The ship's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Walter Smith, played the engineering officer. He is the man seen reading comics (Little Orphan Annie) during the lull before the action.
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 as "So leben wir" ("That's how we live").
- The 1966 Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror" is closely based on this film, with the USS Enterprise cast as the destroyer and the Romulan vessel, using a cloaking device, as the U-boat.
- The Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "Killers of the Deep" was not only based on this movie, it also re-used substantial amounts of footage from it. Also David Hedison (then Al Hedison) who played Lieutenant Ware, the executive officer of the Haynes, played Commander Lee Crane.
In popular culture
At the beginning of the movie Crimson Tide (Tony Scott, 1995), the crew of the USS Alabama goes on board and talks about submarine movies, citing The Enemy Below.
- Rayner, D.A., The Enemy Below, London: Collins 1956
- The Enemy Below at the Internet Movie Database
- The Enemy Below at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Enemy Below at allmovie
- The Enemy Below at the TCM Movie Database
- DVD review at dvdtalk.com
- DVD review at dvdcult.com