The Silent Enemy (1958) starring Laurence Harvey, Dawn Addams, Michael Craig, John Clements, Sid James, Alec McCowen, Nigel Stock, Arnoldo Fo directed by William Fairchild Movie Review

The Silent Enemy (1958)   3/53/53/53/53/5


Laurence Harvey as Lieutenant Crabb in The Silent Enemy (1958)

Harvey Gets Crabby

Does the name Lionel Crabb mean anything to you? Before watching "The Silent Enemy" it meant nothing to me but it appears that not only was he a fascinating chap but also a war hero as he became a decorated under water explosive expert. "The Silent Enemy" is a movie all about Crabb or at least a part of Crabb's life, his assignment in the Mediterranean during 1941 where he was part of a team which were placed in charge of removing limpet mines and bombs placed by the Italians on the hulls of British warships. The thing is that whilst "The Silent Enemy" has its roots in fact it is a movie made to entertain and so whilst we get action, atmosphere, drama and some humour the facts are bent to make for a more entertaining picture. It's not a criticism as many war time movies changed facts but it is definitely worth knowing before watching this entertaining war movie.

With the navy based in Gibraltar having to deal with Italian frogmen using underwater chariots to place explosives on their war ships, explosives expert Lieutenant Lionel Crabb (Laurence Harvey - Storm Over the Nile) arrives and becomes part of the diving team, trying to defuse the explosives before they destroy the ships. At the same time he leads his small group of men which soon grow in trying to find out how the Italian's are achieving their stealth missions and where they are building the explosives and underwater chariots.

Sid James and Laurence Harvey in The Silent Enemy (1958)

So as already mentioned "The Silent Enemy" is a blend of fact and fiction, a blend which is so cleverly put together that unless you know the truth it would be easy to believe much of what is presented to be the truth. It is why the movie works because whilst not 100% accurate it makes it entertaining with several rousing scenes where the British, lead by Crabb beat the Italians. In fact one of the most rousing scenes in the movie is purely fiction yet considering when the movie was made it was what was expected.

A big reason why "The Silent Enemy" is so entertaining is because there is this wonderful mix of action, drama and humour. Are introduction to Crabb is an amusing one and many scenes which feature Crabb on shore have this element of humour be it in his gruff way he deals with authority or when Chief Petty Officer Thorpe joins the group and starts knocking them into shape. But then we have the drama as we watch Crabb and the brave divers not only trying to defuse bombs but also other underwater missions and this leads to some brilliant action with some stunning under the water photography. But more importantly the scenes where we have Crabb and his team dealing with explosives are full of atmosphere and director William Fairchild does a brilliant job of having us holding are breathe as Crabb slowly pulls out a detonator.

So in many ways "The Silent Enemy" ends up being more entertainment based than factual and much of the entertainment comes from the performances especially from Laurence Harvey as Lionel Crabb. When we first meet him there is a bit of the no nonsense, no time for idiots James Robertson Justice about him as he has to deal with procedure and watching him basically bluster his way through the opening scenes is wonderfully light hearted. But then when the movie gets serious Harvey switches it brilliantly and delivers the drama especially in the scene where he and his men have had a long night trying to save warships from limpet mines. The mix of comedy and drama also comes from others with Sid James adding plenty of light hearted humour when he shows up as Chief Petty Officer Thorpe, creating a really great character of being tough to his men but also protective.

What this all boils down to that "The Silent Enemy" whilst based in fact is more of a rousing British war movie which focuses on being entertaining, bending the facts to deliver big scenes. It is entertaining with some wonderful action, drama and humour but also a real sense of atmosphere which makes it more than just another war movie from a bygone era.


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