Tuesday, January 25, 2011

DVD Review: The Enemy Below (1957)

The Enemy Below (1957)

(Released: 2004 by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment)

A DVD Review – and an unexpected addition – by Joe Torcivia

Dick Powell directed this grand WW II confrontation between a American destroyer and a German submarine that starred Robert Mitchum and Curt Jurgens as the respective commanders and “foes without faces”, who finally meet at the climactic finale.

Mitchum’s “Captain Murrell” and Jurgens’ “Von Stollberg” are the worthiest of adversaries, and the game of “cat and mouse” between the U.S.S. Haynes and the German U-Boat is the stuff of cinematic magic!

There’s no end to misery and destruction”, observes Mitchum’s destroyer captain.

You cut off the head of 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!”

And so the U-Boat attacks, and the destroyer evades. The destroyer attacks, and the U-Boat evades. Strategy is countered with strategy, and twists and turns lead to more twists and turns. That is, until a most memorable climax of the fiery hulk of the Haynes ramming the U-Boat, dooming them both. The survivors head “who-knows-where” to fight again, with Murrell and Von Stollberg achieving the expected (…and, frankly, DESERVED) mutual respect.

In achieving this classic, Powell brought a host of notable talents with him… as the credits reveal:

Music by: Leigh Harline.
Conducted by Lionel Newman.
Set Decorations: Walter M. Scott.
Makeup: Ben Nye, SMA.
Special Photographic Effects: L.B.Abbott, ASC.

Oh, yes… rounding out the cast was an actor named “Al Hedison”, as Lt. Ware. Fans of a certain classic 1960s television sci-fi series might better know him as David Hedison”.

If any of those names seem familiar, we’ll get back to them.

Rounding Out the DVD:

We’ll dispense with the usual “PROS and CONS” this time, as this set is just right for what it is. It does not aspire to be anything more than the basic presentation of the film as seen on the “big screen” in 1957 – with just enough of a sprinkling of Extra Features.

FOX presents this grand widescreen adventure in Cinemascope. And does it ever look great on when upconverted by a Blu-ray player to an HD TV. There’s just something I like about the widescreen presentations of the ‘50s era, now that I can view them properly. Even the cartoons, like the handful of Cinemascope Donald Duck, Tom and Jerry, and Droopys, look great!

Special Features:

The original theatrical trailer, hosted by Dick Powell.

FOX Movietone Newsreel footage of WW II vintage, hosted by Lowell Thomas.

A commentary track would have been very welcome, especially in view of what I’m about to discuss. The lack of such would be the only “CON” to report.

An Odd But Notable Thing About the Film:

What’s familiar about the “notable talent” names I noted above? It is that all of them “ported over” to the television side of 20th Century Fox in the decade that followed. And, while they were of great benefit to a variety of 1960s FOX television series, perhaps the greatest concentration of their work was on the Irwin Allen science fiction series – VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1964-1968), LOST IN SPACE (1965-1968), THE TIME TUNNEL (1966-1967), and LAND OF THE GIANTS (1968-1970).

Lionel Newman supervised the music scoring of all four series, utilizing original works from John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Alexander Courage, Leith Stevens, Lennie Hayton, Herman Stein, Robert Drasnin, Gerald Fried, Harry Geller, and others. Slipping in FOX-owned scores by the likes of the great Bernard Herrmann and others when needed.

Leigh Harline’s score for “The Enemy Below” was often heard in VOYAGE and TIME TUNNEL, and his main theme for this picture doubled as a heralding for alien royalty on LOST IN SPACE in “His Majesty Smith” (1966) and “Cave of the Wizards” (1967).

Walter M. Scott and Ben Nye (respectively) provided Set Decoration and Makeup for all four series.

The great L.B.Abbott – along with Howard Lydecker – was the SFX wizard behind all the explosions, sparks, fires, quakes, tidal waves, and the various space and sea craft featured in these series.

And, Al (David) Hedison starred in VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA as Captain Lee Crane.

We may never know if David Hedison’s recollections of – or experiences acting in – “The Enemy Below” factored into this unusual move, or not, but much of the film’s destroyer and U-boat special effects footage – not to mention its music score – was “repurposed” to create the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA television episode “Killers of the Deep” (Original air date: January 02, 1966).

The second season of Voyage was BIG in visual scope. Bigger, in fact, than anything previously made for the small screen. Production values for this season were generally on a par with cinematic predecessors such as “The Enemy Below”.

So much so that, when actual effects footage of the U.S.S. Haynes, the German sub, depth charges, towering explosions of water, and the like were inserted into “Killers of the Deep”, it looked par for the course. I’m no expert on sea craft and weaponry, but this footage, shot to conjure up imagery of WW II, looked “at home” enough in VOYAGE’s tale of the Cold War era.

This wasn’t the first time VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA augmented its SFX library by incorporating feature film footage into the mix. Producer Allen’s earlier films “The Lost World” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (the film that begat the TV series) were lifted whole cloth to form the episodes “Turn Back the Clock” (1964) and “The Sky’s on Fire” (1966).

But, it was more unusual for Allen to raid a film not his own – and to spin a completely original tale of Cold War intrigue, from one of World War II strategy and conflict. Given this, the lack of a DVD commentary track for “The Enemy Below” – which may have elaborated on this topic – is especially lamented.

It is to the great credit of Dick Powell and the crew he assembled in the late 1950s, that such a film was produced – and became a success for what amounted to two almost distinctly different audiences.

Killers of the Deep” can be found on the DVD collection VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA Season Two, Volume Two. Watch the film and the TV episode back-to-back for a unique and one-of-a-kind entertainment experience.

The Enemy Below is highly recommended for fans of World War II drama – and 1960s era Sci-Fi / Adventure. Not too many films can duplicate THAT feat!

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