The Silent Enemy
"The drama itself is a bit on the wayward side... with the underwater stealth scenes adding some much needed propulsion" | Photo: Studiocanal

A courageous episode in the life of frogman Lionel "Buster" Crabb is brought to the screen in The Silent Enemy, which dramatises, with a bit of poetic licence, a real-life raid. The film begins as bomb disposal expert Crabb (Laurence Harvey) is sent to Gibraltar to aid efforts to thwart Italian frogmen who are blowing up ships in the dock. Quickly deciding to join the tiny team of British frogmen despite having no experience at all, we can quicly see that he Seaman Knowles (Michael Craig) and Seaman Fraser (Nigel Stock) are plucky, under-manned and ill-equipped, in short, all the classic ingredients for this sort of war film.

It's not long before the trio, along with a few others, find themselves being trained up by Chief Petty Officer Thorpe (Sid James playing it dead straight), while plotting a secret foray to neutral Spain in a bid to find out how those pesky Italians are managing to blow things up so successfully. William Fairchild, who adapted the script from Michael Pugh's book, proves workmanlike as a director on dry land, with the underwater sequences, the film's main selling point.

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The drama itself is a bit on the wayward side, as Fairchild tries to mix in a splash of potential romance with Third Officer Jill Masters (Dawn Addams, better known for her TV work in the likes of Father Dear Father and Triangle) with lighter weight comedy from the training under Thorpe's watchful eye. All of this drags at the pace, with the underwater stealth scenes adding some much needed propulsion. Inevitably, the characterisation of the non-British characters is very much of its time. They just about get away with it with the Italians - who, watching British operations through a telescope have a very Bond villain vibe (although it pre-dates the similarly aquatic Thunderball by seven years) - but the Spanish ships captain Miguel is played with distractingly vaudevillian verve by the very unSpanish Cyril Shapps (who would go on to be the Nineties voice of Paddington's Mr Gruber).

Like the newly scrubbed up re-release of Gift Horse, this is also worth a look if the recent Operation Mincemeat has got you interested in fiction out of wartime fact drama.

Reviewed on: 25 Apr 2022
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The Silent Enemy packshot
Explosives exert Lionel Crabb joins frogmen to root out an Italian wartime secret base.

Director: William Fairchild

Writer: William Fairchild based on the book by Marshall Pugh

Starring: Laurence Harvey, Sidney James, Michael Craig, Nigel Stock, John Clements, Dawn Addams, Alec McCowen, Ian Whittaker, Arnoldo Foà, Gianna Maria Canale, Massimo Serato, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Carlo Giustini, Raymond Young, David Lodge

Year: 1958

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK

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