Rating: The Good – 88.5 Genre: Thriller, Mystery Duration: 126 mins Director: John Frankenheimer Stars: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh
John Frankenheimer’s magnum opus is a thoroughly captivating story as well as a genuine classic. The plot was of its time but the execution of that plot way ahead of it. Old “Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra plays the army major who returns from the Korean War with strange recurrent nightmares and an inexplicable liking for one of his subordinates who he always found decidedly dislikeable. Lawrence Harvey is that soldier, Raymond Shaw, who hails from a wealthy family dominated by his ruthless mother who will stop at nothing to install her puppet husband as vice president of the country.
Sinatra is every bit the star of the show and his natural charisma ties you to the film. Harvey is excellent as the ill-tempered yet vulnerable Shaw and Angela Lansbury is terrific as his dangerous mother. Janet Leigh is unusually inserted into the story from a fascinating angle which remains quite bluntly unexplained (it’s hinted that she may have a previous history with Sinatra’s character either professional, personal, or other). However, this lack of resolution doesn’t hurt the film in any way and if anything, it adds to the overall strangeness which the movie feeds off.
The Manchurian Candidate (based on Richard Condon’s novel) says much about the then recent McCarthy hearings and it’s all especially insightful. The conditioning aspect to the film is reasonably well rooted in the science but naturally has to take some giant leaps into hugely improbable territory. Frankenheimer’s direction comes into its own during the conditioning scenes as he uses long dream-like pan shots and off-camera dialogue to expertly convey the conceptual sterility of the dastardly Dr. Yen Lo’s (played with relish by Khigh Dhiegh) methodical manipulations. This gives the sequences a cruel soullessness which facilitates some of the creepiest and downright shocking moments we’ve seen on film. And on top of all that there’s one of the earliest American movie ‘kung-fu’ fights which builds wonderfully on Spencer Tracy’s explosive introduction in Bad Day at Black Rock. Unmissable.
Rating: The Good – 74 Genre: War Duration: 112 mins Director: William Fairchild Stars: Laurence Harvey, Dawn Addams, Michael Craig
Lawrence Harvey stars as the real life eccentric and enigmatic explosives expert Lieutenant Lionel Crabb, who after learning the Italians are mining allied ships docked at Gibraltar using underwater chariots, trains himself in underwater demolition and then begins shaping a unit of frogmen into an elite demolition crew. The Silent Enemy is one of those unique WWII features that stands out from the pack for its originality and tension. Few enough films deal with the considerable efforts of the Italians in stopping the allied ships from supplying their African forces and fewer still (if any) have looked at the unique art of the frogman bomb disposal expert.
The characters in this film are well rounded and full of personality with the “Carry On’s” Sid James doing especially well in the supporting stakes. Not surprisingly, therefore, there is some wonderful humour sprinkled amongst the drama and it gives the film a real charm. However, this is Lawrence Harvey’s film and what a pleasure it is seeing him playing a good guy with the same class and playfulness he brought to the many more famous bad guy personas he took on. In a style Roger Moore was to later adopt in North Sea Hijack, Harvey portrays Crabb as an irascible, caring, but most of all obsessive officer. This gives The Silent Enemy a psychologically slanted intensity the likes of which The Hurt Locker was to build itself around as Crabb repeatedly breaks procedure and endangers himself in the acts of his bomb disarmament.
The action in The Silent Enemy is hugely impressive thanks to Otto Heller’s splendid underwater photography and director William Fairchild’s courageous direction. These peak towards the end of the second act when Crabb’s frogmen are accosted by their Italian counterparts as both teams attempt to salvage classified allied documents of a recently sunken plane. It’s a thrilling piece of action and there’s not many underwater sequences which can match it. The big finale maintains the momentum of these earlier sequences as Crabb himself takes the battle to the enemy in a clockwork constructed hair-raiser.
As with all low-key WWII films which are based on fact, it’s hard to know how much of this is accurate. But that’s not really the point. The characters represent the courage that all who fought in that war demonstrated while the story shines a cinematically rousing light on one of the more fascinating yet ignored fronts of that conflict. The Silent Enemy is now public domain so you can find a link to the full movie above.