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The Enemy Below and the Balance of Terror

By: William Christopher

Inspiration for Balance of Terror.

In 1957 the World War II movie The Enemy Below, starring Robert Mitchum and Curd Jürgens, was released and decades later it was adapted for the Star Trek episode Balance of Terror.

Now there has been no, and I doubt there ever will be, formal acknowledgment of that the movie Enemy Below was the guiding force behind the Star Trek Episode Balance of Terror, but the similarities cannot be ignored.

In the Enemy Below Robert Mitchum plays the Captain of the USS Hayes, a US Destroyer on patrol in the south Atlantic during the second World War. While on patrol, the Hayes stumbles across a German U-boat captained by Curd Jürgens. Jürgens character, Captain Von Stolberg, has grown disillusioned with the war but remains dedicated to his duty through to the bitter end. A similarity to the Romulan Captain played by Mark Leonard in Balance of Terror.

Mitchums character, Captain Murrell, starts a cat and mouse game with the German sub all the while being careful not to underestimate the U-boat captain. Likewise the U-boat captain tried every trick in the book to evade the Hayes and time after time and is at each turn out witted by Mitchums character, Captain Murrell. At one point the U-boat Captains tactics are anticipated by the Captain Murrell and he lays a trap for the U-boat which prompts Jürgens character, Captain Von Stolberg, to tell his First Officer, "He is the devil that one." A very close similarity to "He is a sorcerer that one." As said by Mark Leonard's character, The Romulan Commander, in Balance of Terror shortly after being out smarted by Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise.

The U-boat, like its Romulan Bird of Prey counter part, can hide from view simply by submerging much like the Romulan ship cloaks. The U-boat can be tracked via under water sonar after it has submerged, while the Bird of Prey can be tracked by motion sensors while it is cloaked.

Both ships use Torpedoes that are devastatingly powerful. Both ships are limited by speed barriers and can easily be over run by their opponent's vessels.

In the Star Trek episode Kirk must press the attack against the Romulan ship before it crosses the Neutral Zone, while Mitchums character must confront the U-boat before it can pull his ship into a trap against a German Raider. Captain Muller orders a series of hit and run attacks that weaken both the crew moral and the structure of the U-boat itself. Ultimately he decides to orders a final lunge forward to attack the U-boat and hopefully destroying it. Having anticipated the tactic, Jürgens character fires his torpedoes at an opportune time striking the Hayes amid ship and crippling her. Similar to what happened to Enterprise when it fired upon Romulan nuclear device detonating it mere meters from the ship.

Mitchums knowing that his only chance at survival, lays in the tactic of luring the U-boat into a trap. He plays dead in the water and orders fires set on the deck to give the appearance that his ship was heavily damaged by the attack. The U-boat Captain buys the bait and moves in close for the kill only to be shelled and ultimately rammed by the Hayes.

In the end the U-boat is destroyed by a self destruct device that also takes out the Hayes. A tactic that the Romulan Captain had used in Balance of Terror a decade later. It should also be noted that the destruction of the Romulan ship was also done by measures of a self destruct device, however, the Enterprise was not destroyed as that would have ended the series.

Mitchums character also had a good working relationship with the ships doctor and Executive Officer, which I believe inspired the relationship that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy ultimately shared. You can see the developing friendship between the characters in the move The Enemy Below as Mitchums character shares a moment of reflection with the ship's Doctor who gives him advice much like the Character of Dr. McCoy later gives to Captain Kirk.

"In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, three million, million galaxies like this. But in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us." - Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelly)

Additionally the U-Boat Captain shares a very similar relationship with his First Officer. At one point Jürgens tells his First Officer of his growing fear that the war is unjust and he morns for what it has done to his beloved Germany, much like the talk between The Romulan Commander and his Centurion First Officer.

"Another war, must it always be so? How many comrades have we lost in this way?... Obedience. Duty. Death, and more death..." - Romulan Commander (Mark Leonard)

In the end both First Officers are killed as a result of battle, another strong similarity between the two.

Additionally both the movie and the Star Trek episode had a loyalist character that was shunned by the Command staff. The two characters shared a strong sense of loyalty to their government leader, one to Hitler, the other to The Praetor, and were a source of irritation to both Captains.

It was clear that both the Captain of the U-boat and the Captain of the Destroyer had commanders respect for each other as did Captain Kirk and the Romulan Commander. The similarities between the move The Enemy Below and the Star Trek television episode Balance of Terror are unmistakable.

The move The Enemy Below@ is clearly the inspiration for the Star Trek episode ABalance of Terror.

If you have not yet seen either of the movies The Enemy Below, or the Star Trek episode Balance of Terror, you should consider watching them both and make your own comparison. They are both excellent films of their era and I would highly recommend them both.

By: William Christopher

Copyright © by the author, posted with permission.

Published on: 2004-04-06 (6278 reads)

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