The Enemy Below
The submarine drama gets put through most of the expected paces in Dick Powell's workmanlike, World War II-set The Enemy Below, a 1957 addition to the genre that benefits from impressive production values and confident lead performances from Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens. The former plays Captain Murrell, newly assigned to a Buckley-class U.S. Navy destroyer sweeping the Atlantic looking for Nazi submarines. They find one under the sympathetic command of Von Stolberg (Jurgens), a World War I veteran unafraid of expressing his distaste for the "New Germany" under Hitler. The weary Von Stolberg pines only to return home, but when he discovers his ship is quarry to Murrell's bird of prey, he's spurred to action, with personal pride substituting for his lack of rabid nationality. Murrell must initially contend with the shaky morale of his men, who believe he's more of a "feather merchant" (i.e. commercial sailor) than a man of war. But Murrell has seen his share of battle, and, most tragically, death, which he stonily relates through the story of losing his new bride at sea when a Nazi submarine sunk the ship carrying them both back to America. There is, then, the question of whether Murrell is gripped by an obsessive, Ahab-esque fury, but this element is never explored in Wendell Mayes's screenplay, which may have been soft-pedaled to gain the approval and assistance of the U.S. military. The film sticks mainly to dramatizing the high-stakes chess game between Murrell and Von Stolberg, who jab and feint as they examine the other for weakness or tell-tale patterns. Surprisingly, Von Stolberg never descends into villainy, which, while setting the picture apart from others of its day, also renders it dramatically inert. Producer-director Powell is commendably fixated on humanizing his two enemy combatants (avoiding evil Nazi clichés probably cost him the opportunity to add edgy layers to Murrell), but he does so in a tiresome, talky manner that is only occasionally enlivened by well-executed (for its day) battle sequences, most of which are standard issue for the genre, and unavoidably pale in comparison to more recent efforts like Das Boot (1981). The film's CinemaScope look is wasted on Powell, who isn't much for shot composition; his framing runs from unimaginative to inept. His work here would get, ahem, blown out of the water by Robert Wise's superior Run Silent, Run Deep a year later. Still, Mitchum and Jurgens keep things, at the very least, watchable as the two respectful commanding officers. Fox presents The Enemy Below in a pretty nice anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 4.0 audio. Extras include three vintage MovieTone News shorts detailing the war effort, as well as theatrical trailers for this film and other Fox War Classics. Keep-case.