THE ENEMY BELOW carries a solid rep as one of the key entries in the ‘sub-genre’ of films that deal with those lethal naval vessels that cruise beneath the surface, bearing silent-running torpedoes to use on surprised adversaries cruising above. Today’s subs carry enough nuclear missile firepower to equal entire wars, but this 1957 saga is set during WW2, with German U-Boat commander Curt Jurgens matching wits and stamina with pursuing American destroyer captain Robert Mitchum.
It was the Hollywood debut for 42-year old Jurgens, who plays his war-weary U-boat captain with sympathy. His comment :”This was an important picture for me because it was the first film after the war in which a German officer was not interpreted as a freak.”*
Directed by Dick Powell, who also produced the $1,910,000 drama with full co-operation from the US Navy, who provided a veteran WW2 destroyer escort (the USS Whitehurst) to use as Mitchums craft, with studio mockups used for Jurgens sub. Wendell Mayes script softens Denys Rayner’s novel, giving Jurgens and his loyal second Theodore Bikel plenty of “what’s it all for?” heart-to-heart stuff (barely one Nazi on their boat). Mitchum is sturdy.
Crewing up are David Hedison (going by ‘Al’, in his debut), Russell Collins, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Albertson, Biff Elliot and Doug McClure. Fox honcho Darryl F. Zanuck has an unbilled bit as a chief.
The torpedoed gross came to $2,100,000, 103rd place for the year. 98 minutes. An Oscar winner for the okay Best Special Effects, beating the other nominee, The Spirit Of St. Louis. The Academy, whether from studio clout-pressure, snobbery or just cluelessness, failed to nominate the better candidates in the category: 20 Million Miles To Earth and The Incredible Shrinking Man.
*Anti-Nazi on home ground during the war, Jurgens had been sentenced to a camp for “political undesirables” in Hungary. After the war he switched citizenship from Germany to Austria.