"I have no idea what he is, what he thinks. I don't want to know the man I'm.... trying to destroy."
- Actor Dick Powell turns director here in The Enemy Below (1957), an inspiring voyage through a fictional World War II battle. Based on Denys Rayner's quite dark novel, The Enemy Below takes place during the ongoing Battle of the Atlantic where Captain Murrell (Robert Mitchum) of the American Buckley-class destroyer USS Haynes dukes it out on the high seas with Kapitän von Stolberg (Curd Jürgens) and his German U-Boat.
With a story such as this, The Enemy Below has great potential for a dark World War II film, but it ends up more of a mix between the serious and the adventurous. The Enemy Below is very well written, exploring its main characters and the futilities of war through dialogue. At the same time however, the film is actually more on the lighthearted adventure side through the film's presentation. Along with some of the more serious aspects, we are more or less taken for a ride as the two captains battle it out. It is a very exciting ride though; following these two likable and intelligent captains as well as viewing some very cool and historically interesting battle scenes (the film won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects in 1957).
The combination of Curd Jürgens and Robert Mitchum in this film ends in excellent effectiveness. Classic international actor (and future Bond bad guy) Curd Jürgens gives a very intense performance as Kapitän von Stolberg. Jürgens is great in the part, a character that is actually a respectful take on a German World War II officer. All too often we see cinematic German commanders who are Nazi zealots - but not our friend Herr von Stolberg. He is not a fan of this war or this new Germany but he certainly does care about his men and his mission. Very refreshing. Robert Mitchum is a terrific lead as the seasoned and intelligent Captain Murrell. With his usual command of his character and the screen, Mitchum brings to life this world-weary man just doing his job. Mitchum and Jürgens are the whole show but it also must be mentioned that an enthusiastic David Hedison (credited as Al Hedison but known to Bond fans everywhere as Felix Leiter) also turns in a memorable performance as the past-over naval officer Lt. Ware here in this film. Seeing the battle the way we do, from both sides, the audience gets attached to both captains and both crews and are in the unique place of not being able to fully choose one side over the other.
Dick Powell certainly made good: The Enemy Below is a great World War II action/adventure film, possibly the best naval World War II film of the 1950s.
CBC Rating: 9/10