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The picture brings back the memories of excitement, terror and relief. Its a picture that the authors bring out. I knew the commanding officer portrayed by Gregory Peck, a Colonel Frank Armstrong, a replacement for Col. Overacker. Gregory Peck was a BG. The only error I saw was in the MGDb write up. Your article sites the planes as B-24 rather than B-17. We were first division originally sent to England to be transferred to North Africa. The 918 Bomb Group in the picture is 3 times 306 = 918 thats how they identified them. We had 87% casualty rate; 287 of us flew to England on Oct 21 1942, 87 survived, and are passing away rapidly now. I was 19 as a bombardier-navigator,flew two tours; the second was a pilot. The picture is my ideal. I have three copies of it and view whenever I feel depressed. Thanks for my connection of the past Im78 and need a boost eversince I gave up drinking and smoking. Horace Corigliano
Of all the movies to come out of Hollywood covering world war two, I
place this one, which I first saw in 1950, in the top-draw category.
From the very start when the credits start rolling, the opening music
seemed to fit perfectly; instead of the era-splitting noise they have
hit us with in recent years. The old wartime, "Bless 'em All" and,
"Don't sit under the apple tree", heard in the background, as Dean
Jagger, now a civilian, slowly takes a nostalgic walk out onto the
weed-covered, oil-stained runway to remember gallant times of the 918th
Bomb Group, now past.
Gregory Peck as Brigadier General Frank Savage did great credit to this role, and deserved an Oscar. From the moment he enters the base and tears into the guard at the gate for casually waving him through, you know he's going to be a S.O.B. Dean Jagger as Major Stovall, the lawyer in uniform now Ground Executive Officer knows how to handle the paperwork after the first sobering face to face encounter with with Savage. That Jagger won the Oscar as best supporting actor, was well deserved indeed. Gary Merrill as Colonel Keith Davenport, the too popular Group CO, very good. Hugh Marlowe as Lt Colonel Ben Gately, who flew too many missions from behind a desk, placed on the rack by Savage with the other bomb group deadbeats and foul ups, handles his role well. Then their's Millard Mitchell as Major General Pritchard, displaying a commanding presence, and Paul Stewart as Doc Kaiser, also well portrayed.
There are no false heroics in this movie. No blood and guts all over the silver screen. And no routine world war two, hard boiled, go-get-'em dialogue to spoil it. The authors, Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay. wrote an excellent screenplay. They did the film a favour, they deleted General Savage's love interest that appeared in their fine novel. I don't think it would have added anything to the movie at all. Maybe what surprised a lot of moviegoers who had not read the book before seeing the movie, was Savage's mental breakdown; freezing suddenly at the hatch as he attempted to heave himself aboard the B-17. It was so unexpected of him after showing such ice-cold nerves
What rounded out this impressive movie was the insertion of the air combat footage shot over Europe during the actual daylight operations. This documentary footage crowned a very fine achievement. One of Henry King's best; a professional effort indeed. The thread of sincerity in this war movie runs deep.
The reason I found the movie so engrossing was, as a teenager, on the sidelines of the war, I saw more than one B-17 stagger home and belly in on a wing and a prayer. This movie was loaded with integrity from the beginning to the end credits. I'm sure the gallant gentlemen who flew with the Eighth Air Force over enemy-occupied Europe would be of the same opinion. It is a kind of monument to those warriors.
"Twelve O'Clock High" is my favourite WWII film; perhaps my favourite 'Gregory Peck' film; and perhaps even my favourite 'male' film of all time. If you didn't know it, 'Twelve O'Clock High' was once many men's favourite war film of all time. How many people know about this now-obscure movie or realize the weight of its faded prestige, I wouldn't like to guess. The number certainly decreases with each generation. To discover it on late night television, however, is the reward for the patient seeker of 'quintessentially American' films.
'Twelve O'Clock High' is essentially the best depiction of a particular theatre of World War II--the extremely hazardous, aerial daylight bombing campaign over Germany. This film is the archetype for that entire lineage of war film. But it is memorable for its strong performances rather than well-directed battle scenes. In fact there are no battle scenes except for borrowed aerial combat footage. Yet few other films have the look of a 'big' WWII film better than this one--even though it is shot mostly indoors or in cramped cockpits.
Gregory Peck plays an Air Force commander in England in 1943. His performance here is one of Hollywood's icons. Peck is at his best-- taut, controlled, and powerful; flawless throughout every scene as a sensitive air commander forced to whip and browbeat a demoralized and resentful B-24 squadron back into peak efficiency. Peck runs roughshod over his new outfit, but he has a secret achille's heel--he fears he will grow too fond of the men he commands, the emotional link rendering him as ineffective as his predecessor (played by Gary Merrill).
There are crisp, well-directed scenes where the stiff-necked Peck rides his men with extra fury in order to steel himself against all attachments. Yet as we and Peck learn by the end of the film, it is impossible. Despite Peck's best preventive measures, the squadron continues to suffer heavy casualties, and Peck, no matter how hard he resists, is drawn into an emotional attachment with the young pilots he must order into battle each morning.
All soldiers know that comradery is the sharpest of double-edged swords during combat. You can never predict when you will lose a buddy--thus its a common practice for soldiers to keep their relationships light. This storyline has been treated loosely by a slew of later films, but never as successfully as it is done here. Every aspect of the emotional hazards of this type of wartime bond is fully dissected, and the film is filled with scenes containing extraordinary close-ups where the actor's facial expressions alone reveals the character's bitten-back response. This is especially gripping during the film's many vehement, man-to-man exchanges involving discipline, implied cowardice or dereliction of duty.
In particular there are two wonderful subplots to the film: look for the subtle interplay between Peck and Gary Merrill (the brother officer Peck is forced to replace) with regard to the "filling of someone else's shoes" and an actual pair of flyer's boots that they borrow back and forth between them. Then there is another bit of business between Peck and a recalcitrant executive officer, Hugh O'Brian.
The scenes between Peck and O'Brian, in particular, will almost make you wince, if you have ever in your life been chewed out by anyone or tried to 'measure up' to what you thought was expected of you. The relationships between Peck and the other officers exposes issues about the choices men must make about each other and about their duty in wartime; and lays bare the emotions involved when they are forced to depend on one another; as well as what happens when they are forced to fail one another. Its simply outstanding.
'Twelve O'Clock High' stands quietly in the ranks of the few really great American films, without any ego or hype. If you can still remember how important it can be to feel part of a team, even if it was only on a kickball or dodge-ball field that when you last had that feeling then you will admire this film. Dean Jagger won a Best Supporting Actor for his role as the reservist, and there are fine performances from every other actor as well. Millard Mitchell, an absolutely wonderful character actor, is without peer in a role he played often, that of a salty WWII general. And Peck, as we know, walks away with his role.
If you have ever pondered what the real meaning of over-used words like 'loyalty' and 'devotion' mean then this film is for you. The unfettered treatment of these hard-to-pin-down ideals is what makes it one of the few really great war films, for my money (yes, guys, sorry to say, its better than "The Great Escape").
When you are tired of watching the endless parade of "smart" "slick" and "funny" films, all filled with frivolous, stereotype-mocking characters, rent this one to see the real thing.
Without any question, indisputably the greatest WWII film ever (except, perhaps for "Bridge on the River Kwai"; but that's a WWII story only in the same sense that "Moby Dick" is a book about a whale). There are no weaknesses in this movie. The screenplay is perfect, rooted as it is in the historical reality of the U.S.'s attempt to prove the superiority of Daylight Precision Bombing over the Brits favored strategy of night bombing. The terrible human pressures it placed on young American pilots AND their leaders has never been so well-portrayed on film. Dramatic tension is perfectly manipulated, and the characters are well-drawn, sympathetic and fully developed. Every member of this superb cast gives this great material the great acting it deserves. The usage of actual WWII bombing footage adds to the sense of reality. The psychological drama - what "maximum effort" does to people - is at the core of the story and supercedes the mere military aspect. And the device of the framing scenes - Harvey Stovall (Dean Jagger) recollecting the story while standing in the abandoned airstrip - is brilliant. It gives the tale an overwhelmingly bittersweet feeling of "long-ago" nostalgia. It is so powerful that Spielberg must have consciously had 12 O'clock High in mind when he used the same device in Saving Private Ryan to make that whole film a flashback, just as this one is. To hell with the flashy flamboyance of Citizen Kane; I would have to give 12 O'clock High a better shot at being "the best movie ever made". Film buffs &/or devotees of WWII history who haven't seen this one are living a deprived existence.
No gungho up and at 'em men. No false heroics. A great war film, but also an anti-war film of great intensity. Just ordinary men (and boys) doing the job they knew they had got to do. Greg Peck magnificent as the general forced to stiffen the morale of his bomber group, and who he himself eventually cracks under the strain. Dean Jagger outstanding and thoroughly deserving his oscar as best supporting actor. A truly great film, 10 out of 10 in my book. There are still disused airfields like that shown at the beginning only a few miles from where I live (although they were RAF bases). In 1943-45 as a young schoolboy I lived further down south in England and often saw the American Fortresses going to, and returning (not all of them!) from their daylight raids over Germany . A fine tribute to those American airmen wo gave their lives over Europe.
Those who think that "Saving Private Ryan" was a great movie ought to
watch this old black and white classic. In virtually every aspect
except photography "Twelve O'Clock High" is superior. The script by Sy
Bartlett in particular is vastly superior.
Spielberg's film focused on some of the command problems faced by Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) in fulfilling his combat mission, but the treatment and development were almost high schoolish (if I may) compared to the enthralling delineation in "Twelve O'Clock High." The problems encountered by Gregory Peck as the bomber group commander were complex, subtle and psychologically demanding, while the resolution was filled with the kind of male social and political dynamics not much explored at the movies these days.
Director Henry King's clean, crisp, "invisible" direction was also superior to the uneven and far too showy pandering from Spielberg. Furthermore the acting, with Gary Merrill and Hugh Marlowe supporting Peck, was also better.
Ted Danson in his cameo and Matt Damon at times in "Saving Private Ryan" were almost laughable.
Comparing the two movies makes one wonder how much movies really have improved. Technically they have in every respect, but too often today's film-makers think they can get by with special effects and splashy sets. Pour a lot of blood, show a lot of skin, get people at each other's throat, and it will play, seems to be the attitude. What is often forgotten are the two most important aspects of film, namely, story and character development.
In this respect I don't think today's films have improved on the great classics of the past.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
In writing reviews for IMDb, I have begun to notice just how many
exceptional movies Gregory Peck did. Yes, I know he made a few stinkers
(such as Days of Glory and Boys From Brazil), but look at all the great
movies he did--3 of the best Westerns ever made (The Big Country, The
Gunfighter and Yellow Sky), some dandy dramas (To Kill a Mockingbird,
Cape Fear) and two of the best war pictures of all time (The Guns of
Navarone and this movie, Twelve O'Clock High).
Twelve O'Clock High is exceptional in every way. It is very similar to the excellent movie Command Decision, but goes deeper into the emotional and psychological cost of commanding the bombing campaign against Nazi Germany. Whereas Gable is all alone and hated in Command Decision, Peck goes a step further and actually goes on bombing runs with his men--only to become deeply scarred emotionally in the process. As a result, this movie is a fantastic look at the psychological effects of war--something that only rarely gets addressed in war movies.
It's a good twenty years since I last saw this movie on TV and I retained very pleasant memories of it, so much so that when I saw it on DVD a couple of days ago I snapped it up. Watching it again I was equally impressed but I turned to this site with some trepidation fearing that a modern audience may find it slightly risible but I was delighted to read the many raves to which I now add my own. Several commentators have noted a thematic similarity with 'Command Decision' released one year prior to this but no one seems to have realized, or at least not mentioned, that these two movies paved the way for a spate of 'stress' type movies in the 50s, Paul Newman in 'The Rack', Tony Hopkins in 'Fear Strikes Out' (actually a true story of the Red Sox's Jim Piersall and his stress-related breakdown) and ironically Peck himself, some fifteen years later would deal with stress from the other side of the shrink's desk in his eponymous role in 'Captain Newman, MD'. But I digress; several commentators have also mentioned the framing device and again I'd like to endorse the positive comments. The movie opens in 1949 in a London street when civilian Dean Jagger leaves a London Hatters (looking remarkably like Bates in Jermyn Street) and after exchanging what seems like an innocuous bit of dialogue with two shop assistants but is really there to illustrate the difference between Americans and English, he goes on his way, stopping briefly to look at his reflection in a neighboring shop window and find himself face to face with a Toby Jug that clearly has vivid memories for him. Having purchased the Jug he is next seen cycling in the country and walking through an abandoned airfield. Although not essentially a visual film - because the talk is the important thing - helmer Henry King obtains a beautifully lyrical effect by leaving his camera on Jagger's face as the sound of airplane engines grows louder and louder and the grass begins to sway dramatically and all at once we are back in 1942 on an airfield at the heart of the still unproved, ergo still controversial 'daylight' bombing raids over Germany. Quickly, economically, we are made privy to the situation that prevails; the station has been having a lean spell, okay, they may be overworked but there are too many planes not making it back, too many elementary mistakes. Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) is idolised by the crews not least because he flies nearly every mission himself and is clearly all but burned-out. Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) realizes as much in an informal conversation with his friend, Davenport, and passes on his misgivings to Major General Ben Pritchard (Millard Mitchell). Finding it difficult to believe Pritchard goes to see for himself and what he DOES see leads him to relieve Davenport of command and replace him with Savage. It's a thankless job for Savage, go in playing the heavy because the humane approach doesn't cut it in wartime. We've been here before a thousand times and we KNOW that in the end the martinet is going to crumble and win the love of the guys but as I've said before in these pages and will no doubt say again, it's all in the wrist. Peck, a fine and underrated actor gives arguably his greatest ever performance here, and he gave many great ones but in no sense does he 'carry' the film because he doesn't have to. EVERYONE involved, even Merrill and Marlowe, normally wooden actors, rise to the occasion and deliver career-best performances. Jagger's performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and if he wasn't perhaps the Best Supporting Actor that year it is safe to say that there were none BETTER. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this film is that even now, some sixty years later when stress, combat fatigue, maximum effort, etc have long been identified as medical conditions we can still watch this film with first-time eyes and enjoy it to the full. 9/10
This stirring war film about the Eight Air Force and their war against the German Luftwaffe was written by Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr. . It starred Gregory Peck as the Colonel, Frank Savage, head of the 918th Bomber Group assigned to making winged warfare succeed where his nice-guy predecessor, ably played as always by Gary Merrill, had failed. He is aided by brilliant Dean Jagger as Harvey Stovall his exec, his honest Boss Millard Mitchell, and others; but his chief opponent turns out to be the men themselves, not the Nazis...he has to completely turn their thinking around, make them write off survival and think only in terms of getting the job done--so they will have the best chance to maintain group integrity in the air. bomb their targets, and get home safely afterward. How he does this, by stalling their requests for transfer and winning them over to his way--the American way--of making war produces a powerful story. Others in the large, but uneven cast include capable Hugh Marlowe, John Kellogg, Bob Patten, Lawrence Dobkin, Joyce Mackenzie and many others credited and not. This epic was directed by veteran Henry King in what most believe is masterful fashion in B/W. Music was supplied by Alfred Newman and cinematography was done by Leon Shamroy. Art directors Maurice Ransford and Lyle Wheeler deserve every praise for the style they infused into the entire production, mixing actual war footage with their new scenes. Sets such as the large hut where missions are outlined, HQ House, the general's office, the bar, the now-overgrown airfield, the hospital and the airplane interior shots are all memorable achievements. The climax of the film is compromised a bit by changing the original storyline; instead of merely being unable to fly and watching his men get the job done without him, in the filmed version Savage has a near-breakdown from which he rouses only when his pilots begin arriving home. But there is so much power in this film and in its message that self-assertion is better than sloppiness, cowardice, inattention, non-cooperation, defeatism, et al, the film justifiably is still a well-beloved. Frequently, it provides an unforgettable look at how U.S.'s officers and men had to grow up as military operatives in the throes of WWII. To see the men in the film have to watch their Toby mug being turned around, signaling the beginning of another call to mission is moving; the film's opening, when having found the mug again in a shop, tourist Jagger takes it with him, climbs a fence into a field and finds the already-disappearing remains of the hardtracks down which B-17s had so recently roared, carrying the fight to the enemy and men to their deaths or heroisms or both--is frankly a classic sequence; it is also the scene which leads to the film being told as a flashback recounting the events of Savage's vital assignment. Highly recommended.
This movie is the only one I have seen that truly depicts how the air war was conducted in the 8th Air Force. It is patterned after the events which actually occurred at the 306th Bomb Group in England in 1943. In real life, General Savage (played by Gregory Peck) was General Frank Armstrong, former commander of the 306th Bomb Group; The first bomb group to fly over Germany.
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