In The Silent Enemy Lithuanian-born Laurence Harvey (born Larushka Mischa Skikne) stars as the real-life British navy frogman Lieutenant Crabb, whose Second World War exploits against the Italians earned him the George Medal. Crabb vanished in 1956 while diving in Portsmouth Harbour, investigating the Russian cruiser Ordzhonikidze . His headless corpse was later found in Chichester Harbour, leading to various theories, amongst them that Crabb was still alive and that he was a double agent working for both the British and the Russians. The film, however, deals only with his wartime experiences in Gibraltar in 1941, when he was sent to tackle the Italian “menace” striking at Allied shipping in the area. He joins forces with Michael Craig’s Leading Seaman Knowles to commandeer an Italian midget submarine, pack it with explosives and guide it into the Italian operating base in Algeciras in neutral Spain.
The film is impressively free of the usual high-flown heroics and jingoism of the genre and, while emerging as a first-rate adventure yarn, it also succeeds in demonstrating that war is tragic for the participants on both sides. Harvey’s role is tailor-made for him and he gave a very well-judged performance so that Crabb emerges as both credible and human. He is well supported by Craig and Alec McCowen as his two assistants, and John Clements – in a relatively rare screen appearance – scores as an understanding Admiral. Excellent comic relief comes from the reliable Sidney James.
UK / Romulus / 112 minutes / 1958 black and white
Writer and Director: William Fairchild, based on the book Commander Crabb by Marshall Pugh / Cinematography: Egil Woxholt, Otto Heller / Music: William Alwyn / Producer: Bertram Ostrer
Cast: Laurence Harvey, Dawn Addams, Michael Craig, John Clements, Sidney James, Alec McCowen, Nigel Stock, Ian Whittaker