Saturday, August 5, 2017

#1 Das Boot vs. #16 The Enemy Below

PLOT:  “Das Boot” is the story of a u-boat patrol in 1941.  It coincides with the downturn in u-boat fortunes.  The movie is based on the novel by a military correspondent who went on a patrol.  The U-96 leaves from a French harbor to hunt convoys.  It will be an eventful patrol, but not because of sinkings.  The plot covers everything bad that might happen to a u-boat.  But it’s not a kitchen sink movie.  It is realistic in depicting life on a u-boat.  The crew goes through some shit, including boredom.  All of it is believable and very instructional.  No movie does a better job putting you on a submarine for a war patrol.  GRADE  =  A

“The Enemy Below” is an odd duck.  It tries to tell both sides of the story -  the escort and the submarine.  A destroyer escort captained by Robert Mitchum plays cat and mouse with a u-boat skippered by Kurt Jurgens.  The plot jumps between the ship and the boat effectively.  Since the movie was released well into the Cold War, it takes into consideration that West Germany was now our ally so the movie has no villains.  Jurgens is a worthy adversary and far from a Nazi.  The fact that the two captains are interchangeable makes the movie a bit trite.  It is the rare war movie that ends in crowd pleasing (but hardly believable) tie.  GRADE  =  B

                                             The Enemy Below  =  8

ACTING:   I don’t really know how good the cast of “Das Boot” is considering I am not German and would not recognize the actors.  I do know they are outstanding in this movie.  Having seen a lot of submarine movies, I can attest to the difficulty of fleshing out more than a few of the crew.  Usually the movie concentrates on the officers.  “Das Boot” creates a large number of indelible characters and this is due mainly to the uniformly great acting.  GRADE  =  A+

“The Enemy Below” is a two man show.  Mitchum and Jurgens dominate.  They are as solid as you would expect.  However, since their characters are flawless, they don’t have to display much acting chops.  The supporting cast is low rent, but capable.    GRADE  =  C 

HALFTIME SCORE:  Das Boot  =  19
                                   The Enemy Below  =  14

TACTICS:  “Das Boot” is tactically sound, with one major exception.  U-96 relies on radiograms to put it in contact with convoys.  The boat is submerged when it should be and on the surface when it makes sense (aside from that exception).  It makes a night surface attack on a convoy and marvel at the lack of escorts and then get surprised when a destroyer shows up.  Next time you wonder about why things are so easy, try scanning better.  The Captain refuses to pick up survivors of a tanker which would have been per doctrine.  The cat and mouse moves the Captain makes are realistic.  The movie (or maybe I should just blame the Captain) goes off the rails when the Captain decides to run the heavily defended Strait of Gibraltar on the surface.  Even at night, this is very questionable and has expected results.  GRADE  =  B

Tactically, “The Enemy Below” is more about anti-submarine warfare than submarine warfare.  To be fair, let’s concentrate on the tactics used by the USS Haynes.  The use of sonar to track the sub and depth charges to attack it are depicted in detail.  It’s a tutorial.  The ramming of the sub is also something that is realistic.  The problem is that the destroyer escort relies mainly on a captain who is an escort savant.  Murrell can guess exactly what the German will do and when he will do it.  He knows exactly when to feather torpedoes he lured von Solberg into firing at him.  Below the surface, von Stolberg is portrayed as a master tactician and yet he travels on the surface during daylight allowing a destroyer escort to sneak up on his boat and then later comes to the surface to finish the predator off with a torpedo.  But then, how would we end up with a tie if he did the safer thing?  There is also something about the sub emitting some substance that acts as a countermeasure to sonar.  That was a new one for me.  How else would the sub escape the relentless pinging?    GRADE  =  C

                                               The Enemy Below  =  20

CLICHES:  “Das Boot” has every opportunity to ladle on the clichés and you might have expected a German equivalent to “U-571”.  However, it is admirably original for a sub movie released in 1981.  U-96 does go way below crush depth, but that is surprisingly not a common cliché.  There is a depth charging that is amazingly accurate, although the movie avoids showing the depth charges floating down.  It has the emergency repair trope.  Actually, repairs plural.  Hell, virtually everything on the boat has to be repaired!  GRADE  =  B

Once again, I must remind that “The Enemy Below” is more of a destroyer escort movie than a submarine movie, so it does not have a full 1:37 to fit in clichés.  Kudos for getting a black mess mate onto the USS Hayne.  We do get a depth charging from the sub perspective.  There is some minor jostling and some easily sealed leaks.  They go below crush depth to rest on the bottom, but it’s not suspenseful.  GRADE  =  B

FINAL SCORE:  Das Boot  =  35
                           The Enemy Below  =  28

ANALYSIS:  “The Enemy Below” is a good movie that manages to be fair to both the sub and the destroyer escort pursuing it.  It is different than all the other sub movies in this respect.  It is also significant that it depicts the u-boat captain as being as heroic and honorable as the ship captain.  This makes the movie entertaining, but too simplistic.  Interestingly, von Stolberg (“The Enemy Below”) and Lehmann-Willenbrock (“Das Boot”) are similar in their cynicism, but the latter is much more realistically war-weary.  And so is his boat.  After you watch “Das Boot”, it is hard to watch the interior views in “The Enemy Below” without shaking your head.  The interior of the u-boat in “The Enemy Below” could not be more different than the U-96.  It is pristine and spacious.  This is one sub movie that eschews claustrophobia.  It makes you realize just how realistic “Das Boot” is.     


  1. Das Boot has literally ruined every other sub movie out there for me. The bar was set very high in this movie, and other movies just don't come close to measuring up.

    Interesting thought on the enemy captain played by Jurgens. Makes sense him being a "non-villain" so as not to upset our West German allies. I like Enemy Below, but it always comes across as "not filling", like it's just missing one essential spice that would make it great. But I can't even begin to tell you what that missing element is.

    1. I agree about it setting the bar higher, but having watched a bunch of sub movies I can sadly say that it would not have to be a high bar. What that means is that there is a huge gap between Das Boot and whatever the second best sub movie is.


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