The Enemy Below is an engrossing tale of a chess-like duel of wits between the commanders of an American destroyer escort and a German U-Boat in World War II, locked in single combat and each intent on blowing the other out of this world.
Once in a while, the gallantry gets a bit thick, in the style of World War I aviation films of the ’20s and ’30s. However, picture is well-made, with solid action and Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens. This is Jurgens’ first American-made film.
Producer-director Dick Powell has lensed two finishes, but studio publicity is carefully non commital on which will be used in final version. However, since upbeat version was used at press review, it’s safe to assume that it’s in the lead.
Fast-paced screenplay, from novel by British Comdr. D.A. Rayner, starts with DE’s radar contact with the surfaced sub, then follows the pursuit, combat, and eventual death of both vessels. Mainly, story concentrates on maneuvers of both captains, as they try for the single mistake on their enemy’s part which will end the contest. Finale has two skippers’ respectful courtesies on board a rescuing Yank destroyer, after Jurgens’ second-in-command Theodore Bikel’s burial at sea.
To soft-soap the German side of the fight for American audiences, Jurgens is quickly established as an anti-Nazi old-line navy man, doing his sworn duty without too much enthusiasm. Mitchum is established as a veteran sub hunter who takes over a new command and has to win his crew’s respect, as well as whip them into shape. He does this with fine results, foregoing most of his usual screen mannerisms.