Enemy Below, The (1958): Dick Powell’s WWII Tale, Starring Robert Mitchum and Curt Jürgens

Directed by Dick Powell, The Enemy Below is a DeLuxe Color war film in CinemaScope, about the battle between an American destroyer escort and a German U-boat during World War II.

The movie stars Robert Mitchum and Curt Jürgens as the American and German commanding officers, respectively, and was directed and produced by Dick Powell.

The film takes liberties from its source material, the novel by Denys Rayner, a British naval officer involved in anti-submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The American Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Haynes detects and attacks a German U-boat that is on its way to join a German merchant raider in the South Atlantic Ocean. Lieutenant Commander Murrell (Robert Mitchum), a former officer in the merchant marine now an active duty officer in the Naval Reserve, has recently taken command of Haynes, even though he is still recovering from injuries

At first, some sailors doubt the new captain’s fitness and ability. However, as the battle begins, Murrell shows himself to be a match for wily U-boat Kapitän zur See von Stolberg (Curd Jürgens) in a battle of wits that tests both men and their crews.

Murrell, the last man aboard, is about to join his crew in the lifeboats when he spots von Stolberg standing on the conning tower of the sinking U-boat with his injured executive officer (Theodore Bikel). Murrell tosses a line to the submarine and rescues the pair.

The script changed the ship from British (in the book) to American. More important, the mutual respect and potential friendship between the two opponents is absent from the book, in which the destroyer captain’s hatred leads him to attack the German while they are in the lifeboat.

The movie vaguely alludes to the “enemy” being evil, not particularly the Nazis, which gives the title “The Enemy Below” a double meaning not in the book.

The casting is interesting. Curt Jürgens was imprisoned in 1944 by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and was released when WWII ended. Theodore Bikel was a Viennese Jew actor, who came a child to America in 1937.


Robert Mitchum as Captain Murrell
Curd Jürgens as Kapitän zur See von Stolberg
Theodore Bikel as Oberleutnant zur See “Heinie” Schwaffer, von Stolberg’s second in command
David Hedison as Lieutenant Ware, the executive officer of Haynes (as Al Hedison)
Russell Collins as Doctor
Kurt Kreuger as von Holem
Frank Albertson as Lieutenant (junior grade) Crain
Biff Elliot as Quartermaster

Oscar Context

Walter Rossi received the 1958 Best Special Effects Oscar.

Dick Powell

Dick Powell directed only a few films: Split Second (1953), The Conqueror (1956), one of John Wayne’s worst movies, You Can’t Run Away from It (1956), The Enemy Below (1957),and The Hunters (1958)