Friday, August 28, 2015

The Enemy Below (1957)–part 10

All dialog in brown text is taken from the movie script at

Captain Murrell becomes overconfident and underestimates the experience of Kapitan von Strolberg. He repeats a seeming harmless manoeuvre, only to find his ship under attack from four torpedoes.  Sonar reports “High-speed propeller effect, all on starboard side”. Murrell tries in vain to swing his ship to port. But its too late.

55. The Haynes is hit

With his ship gravely damaged Murrell wants the damage to appear more severe so the sub will surface, so he orders Mr. Ware to gather some mattresses together and to set them ablaze “Mr. Ware, get a party and light some fires on deck. Use mattresses and gasoline. I want it to look as if
the ship is burning”.

56. That's enough! Get out of here!

Murrell confers with engine room which tells him they’ll have enough steam to move the ship. The engineer, in a sauna of steam, says “just give the word”.

60. Say the word

Just say the word

Murrell then orders the majority of the crew to abandon ship. “Attention, everyone. This is the captain. I want all of you to listen carefully. They got one in where it would do the most damage and we're going to lose the ship.
But we still have a kick left. We're going to try to use it. I am hoping that playing dead and the fire will bring the enemy to the surface. Except for securing crew and the gun crew of mount 31, I want you all to abandon ship.
Repeat: abandon ship. Get as far away as quickly as you can. It's possible the enemy will put another fish into us without warning. Now get going. Good luck
”. Some crew jump off the ship, while most get off the ship in life boats. But if you watch the film closely you’ll see a crewman do a swan dive ! It should be noted that most of the crew who participated in the abandon ship sequence were the crew from the ship that stood in for the fictional Haynes, the USS Whitehurst. While they probably rehearsed this sequence so it would appear somewhat orderly the finished version had the frantic qualities that one usually equates with youngsters getting out of school at the end of the school year.

Kapitan von Strolberg observes the chaos through his periscope and decides to surface. When the begins to break the surface of the water Lt. Ware and Captain Murrell observe this causing Murrell to remark “I'm half-surprised he took the bait. That’s the first foolish thing he's done. That makes us even”. Now this part mystifies me. von Strolberg gives enemy prior warning to a death blow, which I have never seen before in any war film with a nautical theme. After giving the warning Murrell acknowledges it, adds a thank you, and proceeds to give orders.

59. Tell him that in five minutes I will finish off his ship

Tell him that in five minutes
I will finish off his ship

Murrell then confers with Mr. Ware. “Mr. Ware. Your papers say you were
captain of a racing yacht before the war. You must have a good eye for speed and distance. Would you like to take the helm
?”. Mr. Ware races for the bridge eager to show what he can do. Captain Murrell then orders then engine room to “Crack your throttle wide and get out!”. Kapitan von Strolberg, still in conning tower sees the hulk of the wounded prey surging towards him.

61. The German captain realizes whats about to happen

 The German captain realizes what's about to happen

Kunz, who is manning the deck gun, freezes and ignores his Kapitan’s orders to fire. The bow of the ship smashes into into the sub, causing massive leaks, and making it totally unseaworthy for any purpose.

62. The ship rams the sub

von Strolberg orders his third officer to look after the welfare of the men, and he’ll set the explosive charges. But before he goes he salutes his adversary. As he goes below he finds a badly wounded Heini Schwaffer hanging on to a ladder while the sea pours in all around him.

63. Schwaffer is hurt

The Kapitan slowly moves Heini to a hatch. Through almost super human strength Schwaffer is moved through the hatch of the partially crushed sub. Murrell, who has been on the bridge since he saluted his adversary, sees Schwaffer and von Strolberg appear. He throws then a thick rope which von Strolberg ties off, then secures Heini in a sea mans knot. As soon as Schwaffer is over the edge of the crushed sub Murrell pulls him aboard. Kapitan von Strolberg follows shortly hanging from the rope and going hand over hand. As he sets foot on the deck he eyes his enemy for the very first time.

67. von Strolberg eyes the enemy

It’s at this point in the film that the typical ugly American take the place of Capt. Murrell. He thinks he and his new German friend should go over to the port side. “There's no fire on the port side. We go over that way. Do you understand English? Port side!” There’s less reason for Murrell to use broken English and even less reason for Murrell to yell since the men are less than four feet apart. Heini has collapsed against a bulkhead and Murrell tries to convince von Strolberg to leave him “Can't you see? This man's dying”. von Strolberg utters a sentence that explains everything. “He is my friend”. Before Heini can pass away, and the captains can move, they are beset by a mob of German and American crewmen who start ushering them to a waiting lifeboat. Mr. Ware, in his usual understated manner tells the captains “Hurry, sir, I'm double-parked downstairs”. Almost everyone in the world seems to get in the lifeboat as it pulls away from the Haynes for the last time.

69. The life leaves for the last time

Everyone is rescued, but Schwaffer dies of his wounds. A funeral service is held. It’s in German, but the American crew respectfully attends. It was a wonderful touch. At the end of the funeral Kapitan von Strolberg strolls to the fantail to comprehend his life ahead. Murrell follows and offers him a smoke. Von Strolberg looks into the eyes of Murrell and says “I should have died many times, Captain, but I continue to survive, somehow. This time, it was your fault”. Captain Murrell isn’t quite sure how to take this bit of information, so replies “I didn't know. Next time, I won't throw you the rope”.

A truly enjoyable film, if you get a chance see it. Better still own it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Enemy Below (1957)–part 9

All dialog in brown text is taken from the movie script at

The thing that stands out about this film are the captains. They do some honest to god thinking, and maybe some philosophising too. They don’t simply blast away hoping to hit the vessel of their enemy. Plus this film isn’t one of the typical propaganda films that were so prevalent just a decade earlier. This film shows the futility of war. The loss of innocent lives, the maiming of those simply trying their duty, and the mental scars war leaves on those who participate in it. Which makes this a truly puzzling film. Even though it was released on Christmas day in 1957 it was essentially a box office dud. But it garnered glowing reviews. Variety Magazine called it an “well-made, with solid action film" as well as calling it "an engrossing tale." It was voted one the years ten best films, even though there was only one week left in the year. It won a Academy award for its special effects, as well as as a host of other awards such as a BAFTA award, two Laurel awards, and a Golden Reel award for sound editing.

Its effect on popular culture has been enormous. At least two television series cite the film as the inspiration for some of its most exciting episodes. It served as the inspiration for a climatic battle scene in another film, and served as inspiration for countless films, and television shows. In film culture it has become one the best World War II films, and its become one the films to see. And for DVD collectors its become one of the films to own.

Before the Americans start their attack things start to go badly for the Germans. One of the crew in the aft torpedo room takes leave of his senses, panics, and tries to leave the sub. The crew member is just a kid in his twenties, and should have never volunteered for sub duty. Pulled off the ladder leading to the hatch he grabs a rather sizeable wrench. He starts waving it about. His crewmates are at a loss as to what they should do so they call Kapitan von Strolberg. When he enters the kid yells “Stay away from me! Stay away!”. Strolberg wants diffuse the situation without being on the business end of the wrench. Kapitan von Strolberg commands the kid to

45. Stay away from me! Stay away! 

We can do nothing with him, Herr Kapitn

stand at attention in front of him, and to hand him the wrench. If this sequence wasn’t so important it would almost be comical. The kid is puny in comparison to the towering hulk of von Strolberg. The kid hands the wrench 46. It's a part of our work to die.

to von Strolberg. Instead of a tongue lashing the Kapitan simply says “It's a part of our work to die. But we are not going to die. Do you believe me? Do you believe me?”. Confident the kid will not cause anymore trouble the Kapitan return to the command area of the sub and starts rummaging in a cupboard for an uplifting German song on a record. When he finds it Kunz, the typical Nazi seen in far too many war films says “He gets more accurate. He will tear us apart the next time”. Kapitan von Strolberg is not amused by the comment and responds “It will be your privilege to die for the new Germany”. Schwaffer sees the record, protests, stating that the sound will carry underwater, and give away their position. Von Strolberg gently orders him to put the record on the U-boats turntable. Lewis, still monitoring the hydrophone alerts the bridge to “screwy” noises coming from the target. Captain Murrell orders the speaker turned on. The entire bridge crew hears a U-boat full of submariners singing their hearts out. At first Lt. Ware can’t believe his ears. “They're havin' a ball down there”. Lt. Ware then questions the reasoning behind the singing. Captain Murrell doesn’t tell him but Kapitan von Strolberg is trying to remind his crew that they’re all Germans, and therefore brothers. Morale is slowly crumbling and von Strolberg is trying to stop it from crumbling any further. But he assures Lt. Ware that their “psychology” is working just as it should be, and suggests “maybe we can rip him open in the middle of a waltz”.

50. They're havin' a ball down there.

They're havin' a ball down there

The Americans start their attack. The attack starts at 1500 or 3 PM. The ship charges to the U-boats position, drops its charges, then drops back for another hour when they do it all over. But Captain Murrell has become predictable, and Kapitan von Strolberg knows it. Kapitan von Strolberg shows his first officer, Heini Schwaffer just what Captain Murrell has done, and what he intends to do.

52. to fall back on our stern.

As Kapitan von Strolberg speaks Heini listens. “Now I will show you something. Each time he has attacked, we have turned off to port or starboard to avoid the attack. He drops his water bombs and runs on for 300 or 400 metres, and then turns, to fall back on our stern. He doesn't always turn the same way, but twice he did, to run parallel with our course for a very few minutes. In those minutes he was vulnerable. If he does it again, we will be ready. There will not be time to come up to periscope depth. But it's possible.
If we spread the four bow torpedoes, fired all at once, angled a few degrees apart, one may hit. One will be enough
”. As the ship starts to come closer von Strolberg listens to the splashes of the depth charges and comes to the conclusion that the charges are exploding at the wrong depth. He prepares for the ship to turn.

54. Now, American, turn the right way

Now, American, turn the right way
and I'll give you a pretty present

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Enemy Below (1957)–part 8

All dialog in brown text is taken from the movie script at

All U-boats, no matter what design or type, had two types of engines – diesel and electric. Diesel had the benefit of being the more powerful of the two, while electric motors had to be recharged every twenty-fours hours or so. Electric engines also allowed the sub to be underwater for hopefully short periods of time, and to act stealthily. However if the sub wasn't moving the energies would be devoted to providing breathable oxygen for the crew. Whenever a crew ran out of breathable oxygen the spectre of Hypercapnia and death loomed large. Breathing in carbon dioxide is a most unpleasant death, and the worst part is that it’s slow, and that it can sneak up on you. The symptoms of Hypercapnia are flushed skin, a rapid pulse, muscle twitches, blurred vision, and confusion. Difficulty in thinking properly is a major indicator.

With the Germans on the bottom listening for any sound from the Americans, and the Americans listening for any sound from the Germans things get almost comical. Tense but comical. Captain Murrell has ordered everybody to be silent, and this where things get comical – literally. One crewman tries a little light reading, reading about the decline and fall of the Roman empire, while another member of the crew, of the ships Engineers, gets his laughs by reading a Little Orphan Annie comic book. Two officers plays X’s & O’s, while others try their hand at some fishing to pass the time. The gentleman37. The thinking mans comic book

in this screen capture is really Lieutenant Commander Walter Smith of the USS Whitehurst (DE-634). Many of the crew of the Whitehurst were granted permission by the United States Navy to participate in the making of this film. Another crew member chose another form of entertainment.

36. A little light reading

Apparently it took 16 “takes” to create the scene above these words. How hard can it be to pretend you’re reading ! While members of the crew relaxed (or tried to) Doc prowled about the ship very quietly, initiating conversation here and there. Three hundred meters below Kapitan von Strolberg listens for any

38. The German captain listens

sound that may give the Americans position away. With his crew going through a “silent routine” they too have found various ways of keeping busy while maintaining absolute silence. Heini Schwaffer takes to playing chess with a fellow officer. As the captain looks about he sees a crewman reading a newspaper, while Kunz reads Mein Kampf (My Struggle) by Adolph Hitler. The captain is somewhat disappointed in the reading material Kunz has chosen. He looks at Schwaffer, indicates Kunz, Schwaffer looks at him, and

41. The second in command thinks the same

gives his Kapitan a non-committal shrug that says “What do you expect ?”.

39. Kunz reads

Kunz reads

Up top Doc encounters Captain Murrell relaxing and having a smoke. He asks how he’s feeling. “I guess you're finding this sun hard to take after the North Atlantic”. The captain is ready for this comment “Oh, it doesn't matter. It's always either too cold or too hot wherever there's a war on”. Doc and the captain start to exchange small talk. “We've been floating around for quite a while. Think the U-boat's gotten away from us again?”. The captain then adds something that seems to catch Doc off guard. “Pretty hard for one ship to surprise them. Their commander might be able to knock us off if he's smart enough”. Doc asks the captain for his opinion of the German commander. Captain Murrell draws on the cigarette, thinks a bit than says “Well, he's got his share of guts, I know that. If he weren't so bull-headed about coming back on course 140, he could have kissed us goodbye a long time ago, that's all I know. I have no idea what he is, or what he thinks. I don't wanna know the men I'm... trying to destroy”. This last comment caught me off guard as I was expecting the typical Hollywood rhetoric “I just want to kill him”. This guy thinks.

 43. I don't wanna know the men I'm trying to destroy

I don't wanna know the men I'm... trying to destroy

Down below Kapitan von Strolberg listens for his adversary. “It's a curious thing, but I know he's there, waiting”. But von Strolberg can’t afford to wait

44. It's a curious thing, but I know he's there, waiting

any longer. He’s reminded by Schwaffer that if they are to rendezvous with the German Raider ship they have no choice but to start moving. When the U-boats engines start moving they make just enough noise to be heard. Lewis is at the sonar station, and calls the bridge. “Propeller cavitation, deep and slow”. Kapitan von Strolberg knows the American captain is nearby. “He's a devil, Heini. Somehow...somehow we must lose him. Or kill him”.

On board the ship the captain takes stock of what weapons he has left at his command, and the answer isn’t good. He conveys a meeting of all officers and chiefs. He is now determined to get that U-boat and to put the USS Haynes in the win column. At the meeting he tells the others of their situation, and what they are going to do. “We're at a disadvantage because he can turn sharper than we can. We can shake him up, but a death blow would be pure luck. We've expended a third of our depth charges”. A murmur goes through the room. “The U-boat can stay under water for another 24 hours if he wants to. If we run out of depth charges, the offensive will be theirs, and we'd have to break contact to get away from his torpedoes. But we just can't follow him and wait for our ships to join us because we might get pulled into a trap with a German raider before they get here. What we're going to do is to fight sort of a delaying action. The enemy's about a thousand yards ahead. We'll hold this distance for a little while. Then we'll run in, lay one pattern of charges, drop back, wait for one hour, and attack again. We can keep this routine up for seven hours. He can't get anywhere very fast, and our ships should be here by the end of that period. He might even surface. Being inside a submarine under attack is the worst experience you can imagine. After they see what we're doing, they might prefer to surrender, or at least shoot it out. I want you all to get as much rest as you can. Stand easy at your stations, but be ready every time we lunge. It's going to be a long, dull job, but it's a damn sight worse for the Germans. We'll begin the routine at 1500”.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

The Enemy Below (1957)–part 7

All dialog in brown text is taken from the movie script at

Something I didn’t expect in this film was the attention to detail. But as in all war films there’s someone who shouldn’t be hurt or killed who is hurt or killed, and always he has the most to lose. In this case its a sailor who simply wants to serve his country. He’s adjusting depth charges and puts his hand on the rack containing the charges. When the captain commands they be fired they roll and mangle his fingers. The director could have called for a close up of the fingers or the blood, but he didn’t, and I’m glad of that. What really surprised me is the captain takes full responsibility, visits the wound man in sick bay, and actually apologises to the injured man. This gives the captain a touch of humanity, something sadly lacking from most war films.

The German try and fail to kill their adversary, and now it’s the Americans turn. Captain Murrell sets course, has the depth charges set to 75 meters but alerts Lt. Ware he may want to change that. The charges are set for seventy-five meters. Now for decades I was never able to see how they were set.

27a. Set for 75

Before seeing this film I assumed the setting was done mechanically. But now I know differently. Sometimes when a film is done just right a person can learn a great deal. But most films are put together in such a way you don’t really learn anything at all. With little to no warning Kapitan von Strolberg orders the sub to a depth of 150 meters. The sonar returns signals that the target is diving, and Murrell yells to have the depth charges adjusted.

27. Reset depth charges to 150

Reset depth-charge pattern to 150

Seaman Ellis hears the new modified order and acts accordingly. Unfortunately in his haste he puts his left hand on the depth charge rack. A charge rolls just after he adjusts it but before he can remove his left hand.

27c. fingers inside rack

He collapses to the deck, his hand bleeding, and his fingers horribly mangled. Lewis, the sonar man, loses contact with the enemy sub. Capt. Murrell  suspects the sub will return to its course of 140 degrees. Lt. Ware asks what will happen if the sub does not return to that heading. “He's got an important mission. Nothing is going to stop him short of being sunk”. As the ship waits to resume contact Captain Murrell goes down below to the sick bay to check on Seaman Ellis.  As the captain enters sick bay Ellis tries to rise from his sick bed. “Lie still, sailor. You're out of the war now. Doc tells the captain he no choice but to amputate Ellis’s fingers because they were so badly mangled. The captain apologises to Ellis, and says it was his fault. He also asks Ellis what he did in peacetime. “I was a watchmaker Sir”. This small fact hits the captain hard. He’s already appalled at mans inhumanity to man, and now he considers the senseless waste this war has inflicted on the innocent. After the captain leaves Ellis tries to get to his feet. Doc gives him a helping hand and tells Ellis what he thinks about the situation. “I don't know anything about sub-chasing, but I rather think our new captain does, Joe. If that U-boat is still in the ocean. I wouldn't give a plugged duck for its chances”.

As the German sub tries to slip away the cook makes his one and only appearance, and serves soup to anyone who is brave enough to drink it.32. It does not taste like tennis shoes, Herr Kapitn

It does not taste like tennis shoes, Herr Kapitn?”

After the cook and Kapitan von Strolberg finish making small talk, Kunz, an officer the Kapitan can’t stand, reminds the Kapitan of the time and the need to resume course. The Kapitan orders the sub to be brought to periscope depth. The Kapitan peers through the scope only to find the Americans

33. Emergency. Down to 80

breathing down his neck. “Emergency. Down to 80. The American has read my mind, Heini”. As depth charges float down, and slowly shake the sub apart the Kapitan looks at his charts. He asks his first officer how deep it is there. “A plateau, Herr Kapitn. About 310 metres”. Almost as soon as he finished talking he adds “It's not possible, Herr Kapitn, to go that deep. The pressure would crush the hull”. Nevertheless the Kapitan orders the sub to the bottom. Rivets start popping and a few valves burst. But she holds together.

35. Nein. He's gone, Herr Kapitn

As the sub settles on the bottom it lists to one side. Up on the surface Captain Murrell suspects the sub is resting on the bottom, and asks for a Fathometer reading. Its discovered that it’s 310 meters deep. Lt. Ware is astounded. “That's 310 metres...That's over a thousand feet. Can he go that deep?”. Captain Murrell responds “He might like us to think he can't. Slow down turbines easy until stopped. I want absolute silence. Sonar, this is the captain. Secure, but keep a close listening watch on the hydrophone. If he is down there, I don't think he'll have time to linger”. Aboard the sub everyone is at the sonar officers station. Eventually the engines of the American ship fade till there no sound to hear and the sonar officer announces “His engines are fading. Nein. He's gone, Herr Kapitn”.

** I learned yesterday that the actor who portrays the German first officer “Heini” Schwaffer, Theodor Bikel, passed away on July 21 at the age of 91.