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  Silent Enemy, The Deep Dive
Year: 1958
Director: William Fairchild
Stars: Laurence Harvey, Dawn Addams, Michael Craig, John Clements, Sid James, Alec McCowen, Nigel Stock, Ian Whittaker, Arnoldo Foa, Gianna Maria Canale, Massimo Serato, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Carlo Giustini, Raymond Young, David Lodge
Genre: WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: 1941, the Mediterranean, and the British fleet are suffering losses from a source they had not anticipated as Italian frogmen are piloting customised torpedoes underneath the British ships and clamping explosives to the hull, all unbeknownst to them. But now they have twigged after a number of incidents that have led to not only loss of vessels, but loss of face as well, and the Admiral in charge on Gibraltar (John Clements) has been frustrated in making any progress at preventing this turn of events. What they need is a man who can lead a small, crack team of British frogmen and ensure victory...

War heroes can be a curious bunch, some of them like the highly decorated American soldier turned actor Audie Murphy may have had incredible achievements, but was haunted for the rest of his life by the horrors he had witnessed. Meanwhile British pilot Douglas Bader didn't let the loss of his legs hold him back, and indeed was so filled with self-confidence that not only was he an asset to the Second World War effort, but there were very few who had anything good to say about him as a person. Both these men had films made about them, and another, less well-known asset to the war did too, as seen here.

Lieutenant Lionel Crabb (inevitably nicknamed Buster in real life, but not called that here) was that man, and in the late fifties he was very famous thanks to the fact he had disappeared in mysterious circumstances. When a Soviet warship visited British waters and actually docked at a harbour on a diplomatic mission, seemingly Crabb was in the sea around the ship and possibly on a mission to investigate the visit, it's hard to say because there were so many conflicting accounts of what happened. Some said he survived and had been taken aboard for interrogation and eventually was the Soviets' prisoner, others that he had been killed.

As far as we are aware, he was never seen in public again, but sensing a film made of his war exploits would be a money maker at the box office, The Silent Enemy was put into production mere months after Crabb had vanished. Presumably not wishing to step on any toes, they pointedly did not make a movie based on the Soviet affair, and you would only know that he was missing possibly dead from the title card dedicating this project to his memory. In the main this cast Laurence Harvey (with dyed blond hair and beard) in a tale of successive derring-do, culminating in Crabb's triumphant turning of the tables and blowing up an Italian ship in what could have been regarded as an act of outright revenge.

Just one problem with that from a factual perspective: it never happened and had been included to cheer the British audiences who would be largely none the wiser they were being pandered to. But even if you allowed for this flagwaving, The Silent Enemy was a rousing adventure with a war setting and Harvey, not always the most sympathetic of actors (in real life as well as on the screen), managed to portray Crabb with a genuine sense of heroism in the most uncomplicated manner, not quite of the sort you would have seen in children's television of the day, but lacking the edge that perhaps the real man may have cultivated. It was an episodic plot as it played out, hitting various story beats and staging the suspense sequences with skill - that included the underwater sequences, which could be the Achilles' Heel in movies featuring scenes below the surface of the sea. We may never know what happened to Crabb, but he couldn't have asked for a more respectful tribute. Music by William Alwyn.

[StudioCanal release The Silent Enemy, fully restored with extras, on Blu-ray and DVD on April 11th 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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