All dialog in brown text is taken from the movie script at www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk
The film The Enemy Below was, and still is, a rarity. It’s one of the very few war films that doesn’t glorify war. The people in it don’t go out of their way to denigrate their opponent. They don’t glorify their way of life. It is, if there such a thing, an intelligent film about war.
The characters in it aren’t trying to get anyone to enlist, like so many of the films of the forties did. Instead of making you root for one side or the other, it make you think about the futility of war. Yes, sometimes people have no choice but to fight for what they believe in. But in most cases intelligent, honest, discourse can stop fighting before it breaks out. This film does something few films with war as the primary theme does – it makes you think.
The characters ask questions of themselves and about their opponent. Only a handful of characters ask questions. Doc, a character you would never find on Destroyer Escort vessel, seems to act as the soul of the American ship. He asks questions which snowball and cause others to question what they’re doing. When he asks “Beats me how they get men to do it”. Robert Mitchum playing Captain Murrell isn’t quite sure what Doc is referring to, and responds “Do what?”. Doc clarifies what he is talking about and points down to the ocean indicating the German submarine. “Go and sit in that coffin down there”. Doc is played by Russell Collins.
Apart from making you think it teaches you as well. Most, if not all tactics, that would be used by an American Destroyer Escort are either shown or discussed. Most of the facets of life aboard a German type seven U-boat are pretty accurate – however life aboard a U-boat regardless of type was unpleasant,smelly, dirty, and greasy. Even though a survivor of the German U-boats was employed as a technical advisor not all details were right.
The part of the film made me really notice it was the color. Most World War II films (the really good ones) were in black and white. Even the film In Harms Way, released in 1965, was filmed in black and white. Some World War II films have tried to make use of color, but a great many have failed and used it to make up for what ever the film was lacking. But color was used to show what life was like. Blood was red, and not simply a dark liquid. It was used to bring the viewer closer to reality.
At the beginning of the film some the crew members of the USS Haynes are openly grousing about their new captain. They call him a “feather Merchant”, a comment about the captains experience in the Merchant Marine. To make matters worse the new captain is sea sick ! He apparently spent three weeks on a raft after the ship he was on was torpedoed.
“Seasick feather merchants takin' the place of regular navy”
In the ward room things aren’t much better, only the topic is not about the captain, but about a game of bridge. The captain is mentioned but the main topic is bridge. When someone asks why Lt. Ware (Al Hedison making his first film) wasn’t made captain Lt Ware explains the situation.
“Mackeson, the only craft I ever commanded was a yawl in the Miami yacht races. The nearest I ever came to winning was 29th. The navy was desperate enough to take me, but not foolish enough to let me sail away by myself. Beats me how I ever got this far”. Doc then chimes in with his assessment of the new captain.
“Captain Murrell oughtn't to be here at all. He's as weak as a kitten. A man who gets his ship torpedoed oughtn't to have to hit the ball again with only a few weeks in the hospital”. Ensign Merry (Doug McClure making his very first film) turns to look at Doc while Lt. Ware tries valiantly to look stoic while Ensign Merry makes mistakes galore. Lt. Ware is not looking forward to his watch –it’s supposed to rain.
“Me? Well, uh... Negative zigzag, sir”
That night sonar discovers an unknown “a spook”. Lt. Ware, whose enjoying the rain as much as a cat informs Captain Murrell (Robert Mitchum). Lt. makes the mistake of asking Captain Murrell if the ship should be put on a zigzag course. Captain Murrell asks Lt. Ware for his opinion. Lt. Ware is more than taken aback, then suggests that the prudent course of action is not to zigzag.