Cast & Crew
In the South Atlantic during World War II, Lt. Ware, the second-in-command of the U.S.S. Haynes , a U.S. Navy destroyer escort, speculates with several crew members about the competency of their new commander, Capt. Murrell. Murrel, who has sequestered himself in his cabin, finally emerges when the ship's radar displays a mysterious shadow on its screen. Sensing the enemy, Murrell steadies his nerves and authoritatively assumes command. Meanwhile, in a German submarine cruising the heavy seas nearby, Comdr. Von Stolberg voices to his second-in-command, Schwaffer, his abhorrence of the "new Germany" and its tyrannical leader. Although committed to his mission of securing a British code book, Von Stolberg finds no honor in this particular war. On the American boat, meanwhile, Murrell and "Doc," the ship's dispirited physician, discuss their lives before the war. Murrell, a freighter captain in his civilian life, relates that he prefers the struggle of man against sea to man against man, but adds that he opted for the "shooting end of the war" after watching his wife drown when their freighter was torpedoed by a German submarine. In the morning, the Americans assume their battle stations, and Von Stolberg orders his submarine to submerge when he sees the ship approaching. As Murrell baits the Germans into firing a torpedo, the crew, skeptical of his strategy, anxiously awaits the outcome. When the Germans release their torpedoes, Murrell turns his ship in time, thus avoiding the missiles and winning the respect of his crew. After the German boat dives deeper, the Americans fire their depth charges, rattling the submarine. By reversing course, Von Stolberg loses his pursuers, but Murrell relocates the Germans and pummels them with depth charges. Von Stolberg responds by ordering his ship to dive to the ocean bottom, and the boat creaks and groans from the intense pressure. Deducing that the submarine is resting at the bottom of the sea, Murrell decides to wait in silence until it resurfaces. Sensing that the Americans are lying in wait, Von Stolberg feels that he is being tracked by the devil. Up above, meanwhile, Murrell awaits the arrival of approaching American ships and formulates a new tactic of attacking and then dropping back, hoping to force the submarine to surrender. At the bottom of the ocean, the Germans are beginning to crack under the strain and Von Stolberg rallies their morale by leading them in defiant song. When the American sonar picks up their static, Murrell feels sympathy for the trapped Germans but attacks anyway. Finally discerning the American's strategy, Von Stolberg pinpoints their ship's vulnerable spot and then orders a torpedo attack. Severely hit by the German torpedoes, the American ship starts to sink and Murrell orders the crew to torch some mattresses to make it seem as if the ship is on fire, hoping to entice the submarine to the surface. When the Germans emerge and signal that they will torpedo the American ship again in five minutes, Murrell feigns gratitude for the warning, plotting to lure the Germans close enough to attack. As the Germans approach, the Americans open fire with their artillery and then ram the submarine. While his crew abandons ship, Von Stolberg goes below deck to save the gravely injured Schwaffer. Back on deck, the opposing captains salute each other, and then Murrell throws Von Stolberg a rope so that he can construct a pulley to transport Schwaffer to the safety of the American boat. Manning the lifeboat, Ware spots Murrell and the two Germans aboard the destroyer. Aware that a detonator has been set on the submarine, Ware risks his life and the life of his crew to maneuver the lifeboat toward the destroyer. After the Americans convey the three to safety and clear the area, the detonator explodes, encompassing both ships in flames. Once they are rescued, the Americans and Germans hold a funeral at sea for Schwaffer, causing Doc to find new inspiration in their unification. Afterward, Murrell offers Von Stolberg a cigarette.
Joe Di Reda
Arthur La Ral
Lee J. Winters
L. B. Abbott
Comdr. C. E. Dunston
Arthur L. Kirbach
Harry M. Leonard
Edward B. Powell
Walter M. Scott
Lt. Comdr. Walter Smith
Lyle R. Wheeler
Best Special Effects
Best Visual Effects
The Enemy Below
Based on the novel of the same name by Commander D. A. Rayner, the film stars Robert Mitchum as Captain Murrell, the newly-appointed commander of an American Destroyer in the South Atlantic, and German star Curd Jürgens as Commander Von Stolberg, a German submarine commander whose mission is imperiled when the American warship gives chase. The film offers its share of war movie action but the focus is on the battle of wits, a kind of chess game played with torpedoes and depth charges, with the two captains attempting to outwit the other by anticipating one another's movies.
The Enemy Below is set entirely at sea and it was shot largely on location, with the warm Pacific waters off the Hawaiian Islands standing in for the South Atlantic. The American destroyer escort U.S.S. Whitehurst, a World War II survivor stationed at Pearl Harbor, played the fictional U.S.S. Haynes. Lt. Cmdr. Walter Smith, the skipper of the Whitehurst, served as a technical advisor on the film. Powell made use of the ship for many of the interiors as well, to give the film an added element of authenticity. The submarine interior, however, was created entirely in the studio, and the battle scenes recreated through miniatures in a special effects tank.
It was Mitchum's first film after completing the World War II drama Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) and it put him back in uniform. Captain Murrell is still an enigma to his crew, newly assigned after surviving weeks alone at sea, and there are whispers among the crew that he's a "feather merchant," referring to his past as a merchant seaman before the war. "Like every civilian, I had to learn a new way of thinking," he explains to one of his officers. His unconventional tactics have the crew questioning his experience at first, and then rallying under his command as he pulls the untested crew together and they rise to the challenge of their first major enemy action. Mitchum's apparent ease and unforced sense of command defines the character of Murrell.
German star Curd Jürgens (whose name was Americanized as Curt Jurgens for the credits) made his American film debut as Mitchum's nemesis, a World War I veteran who never questions his duty but has no love for "the new Germany" of Hitler. "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," Jürgens recalled in an interview with New York Times in 1977. Powell presents the German crew as simply soldiers doing their duty. The sole Nazi officer among the battle-tested men is a joke to the rest of them, spouting Nazi rhetoric but lacking the fortitude to follow through on his grand proclamations. It was a far cry from the patriotic portraits of the 1940s war movies, and it looks forward to the presentation of the submarine crew in the award-winning 1981 German war drama Das Boot.
The film also marked the respective feature debuts of David Hedison (who was credited as Al Hedison), playing Mitchum's executive officer, and a very young Doug McClure in an uncredited role as a blond ensign manning the communications console on deck. Hedison went on to play a similar role in the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, where the second season episode "Killers of the Deep" played out a similar battle with an enemy submarine and even used footage from the film. The film also inspired the 1966 Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror," with the Starship Enterprise recreating the role of the American Destroyer and a Romulan warship playing the submarine.
The film changed a few details of the novel, notably the nationality of the ship (it was British in the novel) and the bleak climax. It was shot as written but Powell, who was producer as well as director, hedged his bets with a second, more rousing finale, and they previewed the film with both endings, choosing the most popular.
The film, which opened on Christmas day in 1957, was a box office disappointment but it won an Oscar for its special effects and was voted one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review. The Time reviewer called it "the best game of poker a man could ever hope to kibbitz" and the industry magazine Variety praised it as "well-made, with solid action" and "an engrossing tale."
Robert Mitchum on the Screen, Alvin H. Marill. A.S. Barnes and Co., 1978.
Robert Mitchum: A Biography, George Eells. Franklin Watts, 1984.
Robert Mitchum: "Baby, I Don't Care", Lee Server. St. Martin's Press, 2001.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
By Sean Axmaker
The Enemy Below
The Miami yacht races were never like this.- Lieutenant Ware
I guess you're finding the Sun kind of hard to take, after the North Atlantic.- Doctor
Oh, it doesn't matter. It's always either too cold or too hot, wherever there's a war on.- Captain Murrell
Well, in time we'll all get back to our own stuff again. The war will get swallowed up, and seem like it never happened.- Doctor
Yes, but it won't be the same as it was. We won't have that feeling of permanency that we had before. We've learned a hard truth.- Captain Murrell
How do you mean?- Doctor
That there's no end to misery and destruction. You cut the head off a snake, and it grows another one. You cut that one off, and you find another. You can't kill it, because it's something within ourselves. You can call it the enemy if you want to, but it's part of us; we're all men.- Captain Murrell
I have no idea what he is, what he thinks. I don't want to know the man I'm... trying to destroy.- Captain Murrell
Remember our talk on the bridge -- the weighty one, death and destruction? You might be interested to know that I've seen another reason for hope. Found it in a funny place, too... in the middle of an ocean, right in the middle of a war.- Doctor
You had to come a long way to find it, though, didn't you, Doc?- Captain Murrell
It was worth the trip.- Doctor
Maybe.- Captain Murrell
I should have died many times, Captain, but I continue to survive somehow. This time it was your fault.- Von Stolberg
I didn't know. Next time I won't throw you the rope.- Captain Murrell
I think you will.- Von Stolberg
The Original Series Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror" was based almost entirely on this film
Two endings were shot: In one, both commanders die; in the other, a third vessel rescues them. The final ending was determined by preview results. The USS Haynes was portrayed by the USS Whitehurst, captained by Walter R. Smith, who received a "technical advisor" credit and can be seen portraying the ship's chief engineer. Eva Novak can be seen in a photo as the wife of Von Stolberg.
The film closes with the following written acknowledgment: "Twentieth Century-Fox wishes to thank the Department of Defense and the United States Navy for their assistance in the production of this motion picture." According to studio production notes in the AMPAS Libary production file on the film, the destroyer escort U.S.S. Whitehurst, a battle-scarred veteran of World War II that was stationed in Pearl Harbor, HI, was the ship used for the film's fictional U.S.S. Haynes. Lt. Cmdr. Walter Smith, the skipper of the Whitehurst, served as a technical advisor on the film. According to studio publicity, Smith also played a bit part as the ship's chief engineer. However, the CBCS credits Robert Boon in that role. The actors spent a month aboard the Whitehurst during filming. Albert Beck, a former German submarine sailor, worked as technical advisor for the U-Boat sequences. The rescue sequence was filmed at Long Beach, CA aboard the U.S.S. Alfred E. Cunningham.
According to a July 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, the ending originally shot called for "Captain Murrell" and "Von Stolberg" to drown after Murrell plunges into the ocean to save Von Stolberg. Believing that this ending was too bleak, producer-director Dick Powell decided to film the alternate ending in which both commanders survive. The two endings were then shown to preview audiences, who preferred the more upbeat one. The Enemy Below marked the film debuts of Doug McClure, former Fox messenger boy Ted Perritt and Al Hedison, who later changed his name to David Hedison. It also marked the American-film debut of Curt Jurgens. Dan Tana, who later opened a famous eatery in Los Angeles, also made his screen debut in the picture. In a July 1977 New York Times article, Jurgens stated that "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." Other reviews commented that the film was notable because the clash between the captains was not portrayed as black and white or good and evil. Walter Rossi won an Academy Award for Best Audible Special Effects for his work on the production.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1957 National Board of Review.
Released in United States 1957
Released in United States 1998
Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.
Director Dick Powell is also the actor.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1957
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.)