|Rating: The Good – 74
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.