The Enemy Below is a 1957 DeLuxe Color war film in CinemaScope, which tells the story of the battle between an American destroyer escort and a German U-boat during World War II. Produced and directed by acclaimed actor, Dick Powell, the movie stars Robert Mitchum and Curt Jürgens as the American and German commanding officers. The film was based on the 1956 novel by Denys Rayner, a British naval officer involved in anti-submarine warfare throughout the Battle of the Atlantic. For the audible effects, Walter Rossi received the 1958 Academy Award for Best Special Effects.
The American Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Haynes detects and attacks a German U-boat that is on its way to rendezvous with 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 the Haynes, even though he is still recovering from injuries incurred in the sinking of his previous ship. Before the U-boat is first spotted, one sailor questions 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), a man who is not enamored with the Nazi regime, in a prolonged and deadly battle of wits that tests both men and their crews. Each man grows to respect his opponent.
Murrell skillfully stalks the U-boat and subjects von Stolberg and his crew to hourly depth charge attacks. In the end, von Stolberg takes advantage of Murrell’s too-predictable pattern of attacks and succeeds in torpedoing the destroyer escort. Although the Haynes is fatally wounded and sinking, it is still battle capable, and Murrell has one last trick up his sleeve. He orders his men to set fires on the deck to make the ship look more damaged than it actually is. Then he orders the majority of his crew to evacuate in the lifeboats, but retains a skeleton crew to man the bridge, engine room, and one of his ship’s three-inch (76 mm) guns. As Murrell had hoped, von Stolberg decides to surface before firing his torpedoes, keeping the deck gun trained on the ship. Murrell orders his gun crew to fire first at the U-boat’s stern to immobilize it, and then at the deck gun. Murrell orders his executive officer, Lieutenant Ware (David Hedison), to ram the U-boat. With his boat sinking, von Stolberg orders his crew to set scuttling charges and abandon ship.
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, Oberleutnant zur See Heini Schwaffer (Theodore Bikel). Murrell tosses a line to the submarine and rescues the pair. It is clear that Schwaffer is dying, but von Stolberg refuses to leave his friend behind. Ware returns with American and German sailors in the captain’s gig to take the three men off before the U-boat’s scuttling charges detonate. Later, aboard another American ship, the German crew consigns Schwaffer’s remains to the deep in a traditional ceremony, as the American crew respectfully watches.