Maybe it's having become jaded by watching so many movies which thrive on some deeper sub-context that watching "The Enemy Below" I found myself looking for the sub context and wondering what I had missed because I couldn't find it. But then that is what makes "The Enemy Below" so good because there is no sub context, we have a group of Americans on a Buckley-class destroyer escort, Germans in a U-Boat and a game of sea chess as they try to out smart each other. It is full of atmosphere as this game of chess unravels and is full of terrific camera work as well as special effects, with the huge explosions caused by depth-charges being amazing.
The crew of the USS Haynes are a little unsure of Murrell (Robert Mitchum - Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison) their new Captain as not long before his assignment he was on a torpedoed boat and spent days floating in the ocean waiting to be picked up. But they are soon impressed with his knowledge when they pick up a U-Boat on the sonar and equally impressed by his tactics as he sets about tracking them. Aboard the U-Boat is war veteran Von Stolberg (Curd Jürgens - The Spy Who Loved Me) as cunning and knowledgeable as Murrell and so commences a game of cat n mouse as they try to outsmart each other.
When it comes to war movies I reckon "The Enemy Below" is probably one of the simplest I have come across as what we have is purely a game of cat n mouse between Murrell and Stolberg. That is it and the few moments of depth such as the crew's uncertainty over Murrell's ability to Captain or his revealing talking about the loss of his wife don't add anything to make this a movie with a deeper level.
But the thing about "The Enemy Below" is that being so simple allows it to focus on delivering atmosphere as we have this game of cat n mouse. Director Dick Powell has done such a terrific job of creating this electrifying atmosphere whether we are aboard the Haynes or below on the U-Boat and it is this, it is the closeness and intelligence of this battle which keeps us gripped. It is also the stunning visuals which add to this and everything about "The Enemy Below" looks amazing but it is the impact of the depth charges as plumes of water soar into the sky which got my attention highlight the sheer ferocity of these explosives.
And then there is the acting and whilst "The Enemy Below" features plenty of characters in truth it is a two man movie as we have Robert Mitchum as Murrell and Curd Jürgens as Stolberg. Now the irony here is that this isn't a movie of depth, this isn't a movie of multi levelled characters we have the knowledgeable Murrell and the war veteran Stolberg and that is it but both play these simple characters with belief and that comes across. When Murrell calmly says that the U-Boat will return to course you believe it and you believe Mitchum, it is this which sells it.
What this all boils down to is that "The Enemy Below" is not only brilliant but brilliantly simple. It is a movie which whilst having some great visuals and performances is all about the atmosphere and no sub context which trust me makes it such an accessible movie to watch.