In this story of the early days of daylight bombing raids over Nazi Germany, General Frank Savage must take command of a "hard luck" bomber group. Much of the story deals with his struggle to whip his group into a disciplined fighting unit in spite of heavy losses, and withering attacks by German fighters over their targets. Actual combat footage is used in this tense war drama.Written by
KC Hunt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Twelve O'Clock High" is an example of a pilot's enemy position call. During World War II pilots would call-out the positions of enemy airplanes by referring to their bearings via the use of a pretend face of a clock. In this case, 12 O'Clock meant the enemy was directly ahead, whereas 6 O'Clock would mean directly behind. "High" or "Low" referred to whether the enemy was above or below the airplane respectively. "Even" meant that the enemy was level with the pilot's plane. See more »
When Doc is telling General Savage about Gately at the coffee bar, a fly is clearly visible buzzing very close to his face, but the actor doesn't break character. See more »
"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.
84 of 94 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this