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.
on 19 May 2015
Superb piece of classic wartime filmmaking. Not full of action, gore or glory. Just an account highlighting the very real stresses of bomber crews in WW2. Yes it is American, but the Yanks took their share - and more- of the risks in bombing Germany. The RAF suffered appallingly, but this film covers the American perspective and there is nothing wrong with that. It brings to the fore the true responsibilities and realities of commanding officers. Today, these stresses are well known and catered for. In 1942, such matters were not so well accepted, or recognised. This must be taken into account when reviewing a film 70+ years on. Hindsight is easy. The reality of those days is not as easy to deal with, especially from the comfort of a centrally heated, safe home and a bottle of wine on the side. To slight this film thus, is grossly unfair. It is an excellent period piece and should be regarded as such and not be compared to present day parables, such as Saving Private Ryan et al.
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.
Twelve O'Clock High, the classic 1949 film about an American bomber squadron based in England during the Second World War, is nominally a war film but really one about leadership.
The background is military - most of the cast wear military uniforms, they fly military planes and they live on a military base - but the action is in their heads as a new man takes over a failing team, turns it around and then faces a breakdown himself.
Dating from when it does, there is little blood and gore shown on screen and as a result the film has a "U" certificate. It is however by no means all pleasant viewing, with a gruesome early scene involving a severed arm where verbal descriptions do far more in bringing out the horrors of war than a special effects bonanza would have.
Poignancy is added by the extensive use of real footage from air combat during the war for the film's own bombing mission scenes. The planes crashing down towards the ground, the people desperately bailing out - they are all real. It is not special effects or stunt men risking their lives; it was real people, in several cases almost certainly heading towards deaths a few seconds after the footage of them in the film cuts away. (The use of real footage also means that if you are a real airplane expert, you can spot a few planes being the wrong model or type in some scenes.)
But as I said, the film is really about leadership, with several scenes in particular being almost perfect for use in a training program. To what extent do people make their own luck? Is a run of bad luck a reason to sack someone? Is it good to stand by someone who has made mistakes or will the rest of the team expect and deserve a change of personnel? How do you give a failing team pride in its job? And so on.
In all this there are plenty of parallels with the actual leadership style and experience in the Second World War of controversial American airman Curtis Le May. Even if those parallels and the leadership lessons leave you uninterested, you can still sit back and enjoy a well-written and well-told story.