on 7 September 2002
This is a truly memorable film - comprising of a memorable story, memorable acting by Gregory Peck and memorable economical directing. However, the most memorable aspect of this film is the way it allows the story to seize your attention and then hands over to Peck and others to ensure your emotions are enagaged to the final end. The end is about victories of the soul and spirit as well as of men and machines. The feel of the film brings to ones remembrance the times of grave peril endured by Britain in the early years of the war. In essence the story tells of the redemption of a US Bomber Squadron based in Britain in the early years of the war after a run of 'bad luck'. It also tells of the great sacrifices made in the journey to final victory. If you are after a memorable movie experience - make this film your next stop!!
on 13 November 2006
Written by two airmen who lived the story and made at a time before revisionists lost the plot, this film accurately portrays life for the airmen during the early part of the American daylight bombing campaign, initially over France and then the first raids over Germany. The characters and bomber group are all ficticious but the real people on whom they are based can easilly be identified by anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the history.
Technically the film is very accurate but with a few blunders : American scenary like a plank-built railway station and picket fences, several of the "enemy" fighters are actually Spitfires and P47's and some of the airplanes are B17G's instead of B17F's.
The acting varies from stiff to brilliant, with Peck delivering an oscar-worthy performance. Camera work and direction are very good.
On another level the film is an excellent study of military leadership methods and styles. It is also a basic lesson in warfare which the west seems to have forgotten in the 1950's.
This is an extremely powerful, intelligent and BRILLIANT war film! Below, more of my impressions, with some SPOILERS.
USAAF air base Archbury in United Kingdom, autumn 1942. The 918th Bomb Group of USAAF, operating the B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers, one of the first American units to attack targets in Nazi-occupied Europe from British bases, attracts attention of allied high command for its repeated bad performances and especially very high losses. It is now known as "Bad Luck 918" and morale in it is low, even if its commanding officer, Colonel Davenport, is known for his courage under fire and also for the attention given to his men welfare. He is therefore still popular with his men. But the high command decides to sack him and replace him with Brigadier-General Frank Savage - a somehow extraordinary appointment, considering that Bomb Groups were usually not commanded by generals.
Savage (Gregory Peck) is a young and extremely vigorous general - he also quickly proves to be absolutely ruthless in restoring discipline and squeezing from his men everything they can give! He quickly becomes object of intense hatred and things will ultimately go very, very far between him and the men under his command... That takes care of about first eight minutes of the film, and I will say no more here.
The great quality of this particularly brilliant film, which got two Oscars in 1949, is due in large part to the men who wrote the novel "Twelve O'Clock High", published in 1948 and immediately adapted to the screen.
Ukrainian-Jewish immigrant Sy Bartlett (he was born Sacha Baraniev in Ukraine in 1901), was first a journalist before becoming a screenplay writer in the 30s. During war he served as Intelligence Officer in USAAF in Europe and could therefore observe well the functionning of real Bomb Groups. Colonel Beirne Lay Jr. served during WWII in USAAF and actualy commanded a Bomb Group, the 487th, leading it into numerous missions over Germany (albeit the 487th operated the B-24 Liberators, rather than the B-17 Flying Fortress). Their co-operation produced an excellent book - and when they were also asked to adapt "Twelve O'Clock High" into a scenario, they did again an excellent job.
Actors did an amazing job in this film, beginning of course with Gregory Peck, for whom it was one of the most brilliant performances EVER! It is simply incredible how tough is his character and when a really bad@ss general is played by such a young, handsome and charismatic person the effect is particularly strong! Believe me, it is not for nothing that his character is named "Savage"...)))
The names of other actors are not instantly recognizable today anymore, as most of them were specialists of second roles - and it was fitting, because this film is first and above anything else a performance by Gregory Peck, who offers here a brilliant study about a lot of things but especially about the bittersweet taste of great power and about the unavoidable and necessary solitude of the man on the top...
This is a war film with only one real fighting sequence, about 10 minutes long, as almost everything happens on the USAAF bases, but believe me, what goes on far from the front is in fact as tense and dramatic as the shooting war. Also, it is a long film - 132 minutes - but I guarantee that you will not even notice the time passing!
The title "Twelve O'Clock High" is in principle the code word the crews of allied bombers used to signal enemy fighters attacking frontally and from above - this was considered the deadliest way to attack a heavily armed formation of heavy bombers and therefore those words, when heard on the interphone, were heavily packed with menace... However, this title means also A LOT OF OTHER THINGS - once you finished watching this film, take a minute to consider other possible meanings... This reflection is actually another reason why I consider this film as such a major masterpiece!
CONCLUSION: an incredible war film, without one weak scene, mostly VERY tough and brutal, but also with some discreet humor here and there. A thing to buy, watch, keep and re-watch! ENJOY!
on 7 September 2007
Forget the war (there's no bloodshed), forget the action (that's limited), forget sex - the nearest we get is Gregory Peck's thigh and there is not a woman in the film! - what Darryl F Zanuck's masterpiece shows is the positive attributes of great leadership along with the challenges it faces. It also exposes the leader as a 'friend' as a weak and ultimately failing approach. This film was designed to show leadership in its toughest environment and it achieves this wonderfully - remember it's based on fact so it has relevance where many other films fall down (Braveheart, Jerry Maguire etc) which are so far removed from any origins they are no longer connected to achievable outcomes.
Watch the nuances of expression - with no music to mask these, they are raw and meaningful.
Some amazing one-liners 'I didn't ask you to ask me....' 'Spit it out, with the bark on...' etc
A must for any aspiring Leader! - watch it at least 3 times to start to fully appreciate its complexity and subtlety, with the lessons it holds.
Twelve O'Clock High features one of Gregory Peck's best performances as Brigadier General Frank Savage, a tough no nonsense martinet brought in to shake up a World War II Bomber Squadron. The men are shattered emotionally and it is deemed their previous commander (Gary Merrill) has been soft with them, no chance of that with Savage, but is he himself taking too much on?
Split into two parts, the first half of pic deals with how a group of men in war time can reach their lowest ebb. Fear of the jinx, fear of cracking under the strain, these men are by definition demoralised. Things are further compounded by the appointment of Savage, who drags the group further down the battered emotional scale. Second half softens things for a short while as Savage's methods begin take a hold, then there's the missions and it builds to the film's revelation, which ironically lets Peck become a revelation as well.
Director Henry King is on form, showcasing the skill of directing an ensemble cast, which sees Dean Jagger add mighty heft to the work of Peck, Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Paul Stewart and Millard Mitchell. The flying sequences are expertly photographed (Leon Shamroy), with real footage splicing effective, while the writing allows the piece to exude a realism factor, which in turn offers up a more humane war film delving into psychological stings. 8/10
This has got to be one of the best movies based on the WWII experience. The story line is simple. A U. S. bomber group based in England is taking too many losses flying daylight runs against the Germans. It's failing to achieve the results it should and morale is drifting down. It could infect other bombing groups. The commanding officer is replaced by a tough-minded, no nonsense brigadier general who is utterly dedicated to winning the war. He uses harsh tactics, discipline and grinding practice to transform what was close to being a group of losers into an effective, cohesive force. The cost to the war effort was worth it; the cost to him was too high. Gregory Peck plays Brigadier General Frank Savage in one of his best performances. The movie itself is almost unrelentingly grim until we realize that the group is coming through, even as we see Savage begin to break apart.
The point of the film is summed up in two speeches. The first is by Major General Ben Pritchard (Millard Mitchell) to Savage as he tells him why he's going to replace Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill), a man they both respect, with Savage. "We're fighting all over the world. Every theater commander is screaming for crews and equipment...Our problem right now narrows down to one group. If the 918th folds it can spread to the other three groups. It can fold the whole deal...I guess I don't have to tell you what's coming, Frank. I'm going to have to ask you to take nice young boys and fly them until they can't stand it, then to take them out, put them back in and fly them again. We've got to try to find out just what a maximum effort is..."
Savage takes command and moves to impose his will and standards on the group. One of his first actions is to call the air crews together to tell them to suck it up. "I don't have a lot of patience," he says. "with this 'what are we fighting for' stuff. We're in a war, a shooting was. We've got to fight. And some of us have got to die. Now I'm not telling you not to be afraid. Fear is normal. Stop worrying about it...and yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea it won't be so tough."
We're 30 minutes into the movie before Savage takes over. All that time has been spent establishing the situation, getting to know the crews and what they go through every time they fly and survive a mission. And, through Pritchard, what the bigger issues are. Once Savage takes over, however, the movie focuses on Savage and the men, the way he deals with them, the standards he insists on, the techniques he uses to shame or force them to accept what they must do.
The movie climax begins with their first bombing run over Germany. The sequence takes about 20 minutes and is built up of actual aerial combat footage and realistic staged scenes. There's no music. All we have is the muffled drone of the engines, flak blossoming and German fighters diving through the bomber formations. One by one bombers are hit and go down. Some of the crews can be seen bailing out, sometimes they don't make it. The formation keeps going toward the target. It's a harrowing sequence.
This is a tough minded movie. It has none of the Hollywood patriotic bombast exemplified by all those WWII John Wayne movies (as good as some of them are) or the Hollywood post traumatic stress syndrome exemplified by many of the Viet Nam films. It simply shows without too much preaching what happened to a WWII bomber group that started to fall apart and then was brought back up, and shows what happened to the men.
This is a first-rate film. The DVD transfer (the movie was filmed in black and white) looks very good.
The movie is rightly considered a classic and was probably quite surprising for the time it was made - focusing so heavily on the psychological trauma of war, even air war in 1949 was far from established practice in war films.
Gregory Peck takes on the role of bringing a problematic squadron back up to speed - in effect he is asked to establish how far one can push men in the air war before they will crack. His attitude, different from that of his predecessor is much sterner and more autocratic - I would not be surprised if the character was not at least in part modelled on Curtis LeMay - the US Air Force general responsible for the strategic bombing campaign against Japan and known for his hardline attitude towards his men. While Peck does not have the right stature or the obligatory cigar, he displays many of the same qualities and atittudes - the name Savage probably being chosen tongue in cheek.
On top of that the movie delivers in spades during the Schweinfurt raid scenes - these are takn from original WW2 footage, both from the US bomber crews as well as partially from German archives. The fact that some of the scenes are repeated, some aircraft a bit iffy (early Bf-109E occasionally standing in for the Gs and/or Fw-190s and US P-47s on occasion supposedly portraying Fw-190s) does not really detract as badly from it as it would were the scenes to be shot later for the movie specifically. This is no Memphis Belle [DVD]  - the scenes are real and largely uncommented - not that one needs to say much.
The psychological breakdown of crewmembers and crews, the high sickness rates to avoid what many considered certain death, all of them have been addressed and handled - it is surprisingly unlike your typical US war movie, where the focus is often on the heroic aspect of warfare and is all the better for it. Sure, the footage must show many more German fighters going down for each bomber but overall this is a much more balanced effort that typical of either the time or the country that brought this movie about.
on 27 September 2014
This is a truly Oscar winning performance for the whole film (not just for Best Sound and Dean Jagger as Best Supporting Actor). The movie is a benchmark for showing leadership and courage and can be translated into all walks of life. Set in 1942 it portrays the newly formed American 8th Air Force battling not only the Germans but English public opinion. Filmed in 1949 the subject is brilliantly scripted and played showing the vision needed by the Americans to begin to carry out precision daylight bombing.The RAF had tried and switched to the safer but vastly more difficult option of night bombing. By mid 1944" round the clock" (daylight and night time) bombing had reduced the Third Reich to ruins. It was only much later in the war that full fighter escort (to the target and back) was available. in WWII there would be an average of 10% of aircraft lost on each mission.The interim cost in aircrew lives was severe and is shown honestly and starkly in this brilliant film.
This good old stalwart was on TV again and as an admirer of Gregory Peck's laid-back but still Statesman like approach to his roles, I watched it again. This is one of those well scripted and character-led acting movies that explores the men and less of the tactics of War and with the action tucked away right at the end, this remains a steadfast and intelligent film.
Many U.S WW2 movies were mere flagwavers, that triumphantly told everybody how they alone won the War. Here, everyone - English and American - are equal, except not all men are equal, of course and this is what we witness throughout the rather lengthy two & a quarter hours. If you are absorbed by the story then that length is of no consequence and to see Peck's performance at the end is both shocking and unsettling, ranking amongst his best and elevating the film higher and more memorable than all but the very best war films.
on 31 March 2013
Any movie starring Gregory peck in the 40s is eminently watchable. 'Gentleman's Agreement' and 'Spellbound' will testify to that. Dean Jagger's retrospective and nostalgic introduction to the story will perhaps make veterans wince. 1949 is only seven years on from the fall of 1942. So the intervening years are perhaps too short to make balanced judgments. The music at the outset is brilliant, contrasting the idyllic English countryside with the almost deafening peal of warfare. The story of stress under combat conditions is a worthy theme, and the interplay of characters between Jagger, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe and Millard Mitchell (who starred with Peck in 'The Gunfighter') is beautifully drawn. The reality looks at only one angle. Daylight bombing at 9000 feet may be hazardous for the airmen, but the damage inflicted by 'precision bombing' on innocent French citizens in towns, such as Rouen, is carefully airbrushed out of the scenario. The over-sensationalised scenes, such as when Jagger carries the severed arm of an airman out of the crashed B-17, although perhaps designed to shock, may have the opposite effect. The optimistic suggestion of the co-pilot that the rest of him was in a French hospital almost borders on the ludicrous. There can be no doubt that the B-17 heroes went through hell, and, if Brigadier-General Frank Savage (Peck) wants to understand what hell is really like, he has to share the experiences of his men. I have seen many films related to World War 2. This one is by far the best.