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Monday, October 05, 2020

World War Cruiser v. Pig Boat


 The Enemy Below (1957) On a Scope-Wide Ocean


On-surface skipper Robert Mitchum pursues U-Boat captain Curt Jurgens to mutual respect developed over course of cat-mousing. A 20th Fox meditation on plain crews trying not to swallow sea water, no airing of ideology here other than "Good German" Jurgens reacting with disgust whenever Hitler is lauded or Sieg Heils! issued. We were far enough past war by 1957 to permit shading of the enemy, thus Jurgens as entirely sympathetic, almost a rooting interest. Then there was the actor's international following as a man of positive action. Writing bends double to reflect this German's disdain for zealots among the crew, him wise enough to know their cause is lost. Dick Powell directs The Enemy Below with skill. Where did he find time to helm features plus run a television empire? 20th was starting to lose more than win on Cinemascope, novelty of the process worn thin and audiences back to judging pics on merit rather than width. Fox ink for '57 was mostly red, but The Enemy Below got by (worldwide rentals: $4.2 million) thanks to thrift applied. Final profit of $246K would not have been had but for negative cost held to $1.9 million. More spent might have improved effects not so convincing at a finishing ship/sub collide, but Enemy being for a most part character and situation driven makes that matter less. Television was where 50’s Fox output largely got seen. I suspect people associated them more with NBC than theatres, to wit celebrated example The Day The Earth Stood Still … I’ve known dozens to speak of finding it first on Saturday Night At The Movies, far fewer buying ways in (caveat: my field of acquaintances too young or unborn to have Stood Still for first-runs). The show is nearly seventy, network arrival closing on sixty. Factor too syndication, VHS, laser, DVD, other modes, and you could guess your viewer's age from when they got Gort first.

8 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer recalls a memorable occasion of seeing THE ENEMY BELOW:


I saw “The Enemy Below” for the first time with my Dad in 1959. It was late winter and we’d driven back to Gary, Indiana from our home in Levittown, Pennsylvania for the funeral of my Grandmother Mercer. On the afternoon of the viewing, he took me to a downtown theater for a double feature of that movie and “Paratroop Command.” Particular scenes from the shows fascinated me: a paratrooper pretending to be a German and laughingly capturing the battalion, only to be shot and killed by a fellow soldier not in on the joke, the burning destroyer looming out of the smoke to ram the submarine, and the German captain refusing to leave the sinking submarine without his mortally wounded friend. Young as I was, it seemed that I wasn’t merely watching the movies, but living with them. Only later would I remember how silent my father had been. Throughout his life, he scarcely spoke of his own experiences during the war, which I now know were horrendous, so perhaps on such a day, with such movies, he found a certain catharsis. That evening at the viewing was the first time I saw him cry, not just for his mother, but ever.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Have been a big fan of THE ENEMY BELOW since first viewing, not on NBC, but at one of my family's drive-ins.

Watched it again a few months back during Covid stay at home and, as always, was glad to see it.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

This was the basis for one of the best STAR TREK episodes.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

ENEMY BELOW seems to turn up here in the U.K. quite often, so I'll have to catch up with it soon....probably saw the NBC airing, as it was just the kind of thing the rest of the household would plump for, not realising it was "Good German" film....MAD magazine did a spoof on how Germans and Japanese were portrayed in film from the 40s v the 60s, highlighting just this difference.....
On the topic of today's header photo, I just watched NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK yesterday....kinda remembered GloriaJean being in it but probably thought it was Deanna Durban back then....last watched it in the early 70s, when the 30s/40s nostalgia craze it, just prior to the 50s revival.....

5:37 AM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

On reflection, did the "Good German" trope start with John Wayne in THE SEA CHASE,two years earlier?....I recall being absolutely gobsmacked, many years ago, by John Wayne playing the German skipper, albeit NOT a Nazi.... certainly showed a side of the Duke I'd never encountered before....he really took on more than a few roles that played outside his stereotypical image....watching TROUBLE ALONG THE WAY as a youngster,expecting a Western, was another eye opener.....

5:50 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Been trying to find, unsuccessfully, an old MAD article that riffed on "good Germans"and such in then-recent films. It opened with side-by-side panels: One, a stereotypical Nazi sub commander and crew laughing viciously at sinking a ship and preparing to surface and machine-gun the survivors. The other, a sensitive bunch sobbing over the fact they had to do this. The captain says the survivors will take his cabin while he sleeps in the head.

It went through other cliches and their presumed replacements, including Perry Como as the typical Nazi and Tab Hunter as the typical Japanese soldier. It ended with FDR apologizing to Tojo for earaches suffered by the pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor. An odd piece to be sure.

While seeking I found the controversial "Hokum's Heroes", a satire which savaged "Hogan's Heroes" for making a POW camp fun and Nazis cute (the POWs hold a pageant for "Mr. Nazi", where Schultz aces the lovable stupidity category). In the end, Hokum informs the commandant they have to be even more tasteless to stay ahead of inevitable imitators. The last panel presents "Hochman's Heroes", fun and games in a concentration camp (the commandant quips that the prisoner softball team is so bad, he's sending them to the showers). It wasn't often you saw real controversy on the MAD letter page.

Anyway, "Hokum's Heroes" was written by MAD stalwart Larry Siegel. Siegel was, perhaps not incidentally, a decorated combat vet of WWII. One can easily imagine him bristling at "balanced" takes on the war.

What was the prevailing attitude a decade or so out from the war?

7:25 PM  
Blogger StevensScope said...

The BEST of those 1950's submarine /navy/ww2 flicks. CLASSIC MITCHUM; Powell laid an egg with the follow-up THE HUNTERS(1958-FOX).What a waste of Richard Egan in that one; AND May Britt also in a thankless role.

5:40 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

With regards Greenbriar contributor DBenson recent comment re MAD magazine:

Been trying to find, unsuccessfully, an old MAD article that riffed on "good Germans" and such in then-recent films. It opened with side-by-side panels: One, a stereotypical Nazi sub commander and crew laughing viciously at sinking a ship and preparing to surface and machine-gun the survivors. The other, a sensitive bunch sobbing over the fact they had to do this. The captain says the survivors will take his cabin while he sleeps in the head.

It went through other cliches and their presumed replacements, including Perry Como as the typical Nazi and Tab Hunter as the typical Japanese soldier. It ended with FDR apologizing to Tojo for earaches suffered by the pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor. An odd piece to be sure.

I believe "The Two Faces of World War II," from MAD #59 (December, 1960, pages 35-38) is the piece that DBenson is looking for. Like the outrageous MAD #108 article, Hokum's Heroes/Hochman's Heroes, that DBenson cites in the comment, it was written by combat vet Larry Siegel. George Woodbridge was the illustrator.

Believe me, I know what it's like to look for something and not be able to find it!


Regards,
-- Griff

11:22 AM  

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