"It's always either too cold or too hot wherever there's a war on"
This movie was unknown to me until the late 90s when I was rewatching CRIMSON TIDE at one point. I was fully immersed in my love for Quentin Tarantino after PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN so anything he talked about was basically the words from on high for me. It came to my attention that QT had done some uncredited script doctoring and I was on the hunt for things he had worked on. Obviously, he had expressed his fandom for Tony Scott and that lead to his script for TRUE ROMANCE being directed by the man. So CRIMSON TIDE was mentioned as a script he had "helped" with and I watched it again to see if I noticed anything. There's a great bit where Gene Hackman and Denzel are talking about horses that seemed like it came from QT, but there were other things in there too. One scene in particular had James Gandolfini asking some other younger naval dudes questions like, "Who played the German sub commander in THE ENEMY BELOW with Robert Mitchum? Was it Curt Jurgens or Hardy Kruger?". My first thought upon seeing this scene had to do with having never heard of this Mitchum sub movie and that I had to see it as soon as possible. Secondly, the lines seemed very Tarantino-esque to me in that they referred to some fairly obscure character actors that I felt like QT would have known about. Back then, any tidbit or morsel that I could glean about Tarantino or the movies he loved was incredibly valuable to me. As much as I adored the work he himself had done, I also loved the idea of seeking out movies he had a passion for that could have informed his filmmaking. Many of the ones that I had heard he loved ended up being really enjoyable films so THE ENEMY BELOW shot to the top of my list. I already loved Robert Mitchum and I loved sub movies. I had seen THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER many times and it had always struck a chord with me. In that same scene in CRIMSON TIDE, the movie RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP was also mentioned. I ended up seeing that first and loving it so THE ENEMY BELOW was highly anticipated. It did not disappoint. Though it is not entirely a sub movie - it has to do with the conflict between a German U-boat and an American Destroyer escort ship - it was still a great watch. It is not strictly an underwater battle, but the more about the strategic maneuvers of the commanders of both the ship (Mitchum) and the sub (Curt Jurgens). I am an absolute sucker for military strategy movies like this and THE ENEMY BELOW is one of my favorites. There's just something about the cat and mouse chess game of it all that really appeals to me. Something about a battle that is taking place on the open ocean really elevates the stakes too. If you screw it up, your vessel will undoubtedly sink and you and your crew will possibly be killed. It's this kind of naval head to head conflict that informs some of the best STAR TREK episodes and films and it just makes for great dramatic storytelling. If you are a die hard Mitchum fan like I am and you've not seen this one yet, it is well worth adding to your collection. It should also be noted that this movie was directed by Dick Powell. Despite being most well known as an actor, he proves here that he's no slouch as director either.
Here's the trailer for THE ENEMY BELOW which includes a short intro by Dick Powell:
FIXED BAYONETS! (1951; Samuel Fuller)
"Somebody's got to be left behind to get their bayonets wet"
Another thing that I really got into back in the day because of Tarantino was Sam Fuller movies. In an early interview (around the time of RESERVOIR DOGS) that I saw with him, he called out several directors that he referred to as "cinema guys" as influences. He mentioned Mario Bava, Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller as three such gentlemen. I had heard Fuller mentioned in passing prior to that, but this was the direct impetus I needed to start hunting for his films. At the time, they weren't necessarily easy to come by. The Criterion Collection had already issued SHOCK CORRIDOR and THE NAKED KISS on Laserdisc, but I was years before I'd have an LD player in my possession, so I wasn't even aware of those releases. I had to focus on what was on VHS and there wasn't much that could be easily watched. I worked at a Blockbuster Video in college and we had only a few Fuller films in our inventory (THE BIG RED ONE and MERRILL'S MARAUDERS if I recall). There was another video store on campus and they were independent. They were "the cool video store" and when you went there, you could see why. They had several copies of the newest independent and arthouse films on VHS as well as lots of older stuff. They had several more Fuller films than we had and so I made it my mission to see everything they had. If I remember correctly, that's how I first came across FIXED BAYONETS. It was perhaps the second film that I had seen having to do with the Korean War (the first was one of Fuller's masterpieces - THE STEEL HELMET). It takes place in early 1951 and Fuller dedicates the movie to the U.S. Infantry with the opening card. Fuller himself served in the Army and was an infantryman there, so his take on war and how it was portrayed in his films was always a little different than your more traditional John Wayne, rah-rah war movies. Fuller's films always had some kid of an edge to them. Something about the details made them feel more authentic and as such, they were often more powerful. The things that FIXED BAYONETS! has going for it are plentiful. First off, it's Fuller and he always brings it. Next, it was one of several collaborations between Fuller and one of his favorite actors - Gene Evans. Evans reminds me of poor man's Sterling Hayden. Very gruff and tough and grizzled. He's great and if you watch enough Fuller movies, you'll come to love him. The supporting cast is solid too and includes the likes of Richard Basehart, the underrated Skip Homeier and an uncredited James Dean in a small part. It as also shot by the great Lucien Ballard, who brought us such cinematic delights as THE KILLING, TRUE GRIT and THE WILD BUNCH among many others. Also like THE ENEMY BELOW, FIXED BAYONETS! has a solid amount of military strategy going on it. This time on the ground as opposed to at sea, but it's all still quite effective. Fuller seems to carry a certain reverence for men in regiments like this and the chain of command that they are supposed to follow. He still has a character who has difficulty with the responsibility of it all though and therein lies some interesting drama and Fuller's potential point of view on the difficulties that are inherent in having to take responsibility for other men's lives through one's actions and commands.
This disc includes an enjoyable and educational Audio commentary by Film Historian Michael Schlesinger and Also Christa Lang Fuller (Sam's wife) and Samantha Fuller (Sam's daughter). Some nice personal asides here about the man himself.
You can buy FIXED BAYONETS! on Blu-ray here: