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Dick Powell
Robert Mitchum, Curd Jürgens, David Hedison, Theodore Bikel, Russell Collins, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Albertson, Biff Elliot
Writing Credits:
Wendell Mayes, D.A. Rayner (novel)

Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens star in this gripping World War II drama about an American destroyer and a German U-boat stalking each other at sea. As both men try to outthink and outmaneuver each other, the chase becomes a deadly chess game in which any mistake can bring instant defeat and death. Winner of the 1957 Academy Award for Best Special Effects, The Enemy Below marked the directorial debut of actor Dick Powell.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 4.0
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 5/25/2004

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The Enemy Below: Fox War Classics (1957)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 28, 2004)

Before Das Boot, before The Hunt for Red October, before Crimson Tide, fans of submarine-based war dramas had 1957’s The Enemy Below. Heck, the movie maintained such an iconic stature in the genre that Tide actually referenced it at one point.

Set in the South Atlantic during World War II, Below follows a US destroyer with a new captain named Murrell (Robert Mitchum). He replaces Captain “Pinky” and possesses little naval experience, a factor that worries some of the crew. They become especially concerned when he spends his first few days holed up in his cabin, where they figure he’s dragged down by seasickness. However, we find out that Murrell’s last ship was torpedoed; he spent 25 days adrift on a raft and he’s still recovering.

Eventually the radar spots a blip, and the ship goes to investigate. As this occurs, we pop aboard a German U-boat headed by Captain von Stolberg (Curt Jurgens). They see the Americans around the same time. On their way to rendezvous with a German raider and deliver a captured British code book, they divert to deal with the then-unknown potential threat.

After they warily approach, both vessels essentially confirm each other’s presence at the same time. They go through some minor attacks and continue in that way for the rest of the movie. For the most part, it follows their cat and mouse games as the two captains attempt to second guess each other and emerge victorious.

Those elements provide the best parts of Below. The movie follows a tight path and really focuses on the military engagements and strategies. These seem highly satisfying. The film presents a tight pacing and doesn’t go off into too many tangents.

In some ways, the absence of much extraneous material could turn into a weakness. We find out a little information about the participants, such as the fact that Murrell’s new bride died during his last outing. These elements help broaden the picture just enough to give the film some personality. It doesn’t overwhelm us with backstory or pathos, as the character pieces seem minimal but sufficient to acquaint us with the personalities.

I really like the fact that Below concentrates so much on the military elements, especially since it does so in such a tense manner. I also appreciate the movie’s surprising absence of jingoism. The Germans feel like precursors for the battle-weary Nazis of Das Boot, as Captain von Stolberg expresses much negativity toward his side’s quest. Neither combatant feels much passion for the fight. Both express sympathy for the other and do their best to avoid bloodshed.

I suppose it’s not surprising given the year in which the flick was made, but it does present a “Nuclear Age” take on things. It depicts little honor in war and also discusses the excision of the human element from matters. The movie comes across as surprisingly downbeat and cynical; one definitely can’t imagine a film like this being made 10 years earlier.

The “war is hell” vibe lends a different flavor to The Enemy Below and helps make it special. Even without that tone, though, the concise and gripping military elements allow it to prosper. Tight and involving, the movie shines.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus D

The Enemy Below appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of highs and lows resulted in a picture that seemed slightly above average for its era.

Some of the main problems came from definition, which appeared moderately weak much of the time. The movie often came across as somewhat soft and without much clarity. Sharpness never became atrocious, but it also usually failed to seem very distinctive. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I noticed some mild to moderate edge enhancement through much of the movie. On the positive side, the print used was quite clean. A few specks cropped up, but these remained very minor for a movie of this one’s vintage.

While I didn’t expect a lively palette for this sort of war drama, I did anticipate colors that would come across as more dynamic than the ones seen here. Blue and gray dominate the movie, and those tones usually looked moderately drab and bland. They mostly remained within the realm of acceptability, but they did appear flatter than I’d like. Blacks seemed fine, however, as the dark tones were reasonably well-defined, and most low-light situations presented fairly good clarity. A few “day for night” shots demonstrated mild opacity, but the majority of shadows were acceptably smooth. Overall, Below seemed fairly satisfying, but this wasn’t a great transfer.

The Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack of The Enemy Below held up pretty well. The soundfield seemed more ambitious than usual for a film of its generation. It featured a lot of directional dialogue, which became a strength and a weakness. Most of the time, the speech came from the appropriate places and moved accurately from one spot to another, but more than a few exceptions occurred. Some lines bled between channels, and others popped up on the wrong side. For example, occasionally speech from a character on the left would emanate from the right speaker. Overall, the localization worked fine, but these exceptions caused distractions.

Otherwise, music demonstrated moderately clean stereo imaging. The definition was a little mushy at times, but it remained better than average for the era. Effects appeared accurately placed. They blended neatly, though they did tend to favor monaural localization much of the time. Surround usage remained virtually non-existent. If the rear speakers came into play, I didn’t notice them; they added nothing prominent to the package.

Audio quality was acceptable. Speech sounded a little thin but usually was nicely clear and natural. No issues with intelligibility or edginess occurred. Music was generally full and distinct. Highs sounded pretty bright, and lows came across as fairly deep. Effects seemed but they generally were tight and accurate. Depth charges presented good low-end, and the elements lacked notable distortion. However, more hiss than usual showed up during the film. The audio for Below was flawed but ambitious, and it seemed satisfying enough to earn a “B”.

Only a few minor supplements fill out the DVD. In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, the Fox War Classics area includes ads for a few other releases. We find promos for 13 Rue Madeleine, The Blue Max, The Desert Fox, Heaven Knows, Mister Allison, and Sink the Bismarck!

When we go to the Movietone News area, we locate three newsreels. These include “The War Situation”, “U-Boat Capture By Biplane”, and “Inside the German U-Boat Base at Lorient, France”. Each of these provides some short looks at historical situations related to the movie. Despite their brevity, they’re useful pieces.

One of the earliest submarine warfare movies, The Enemy Below remains one of the best. It fills its short running time with all meat and no filler, as it gets to the heart of its subject efficiently. The DVD presents pretty positive picture and audio but skimps on extras. Despite that, the movie remains strong enough for my recommendation, especially given the DVD’s low list price of just $14.98.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6538 Stars Number of Votes: 26
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