Twelve O'clock High

star2 star1 star1


Director: Henry King

Writers: Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay Jr.

Main Cast:
Gregory Peck - Brig. Gen. Frank Savage  
Hugh Marlowe - Lt. Col. Ben R. Gately  
Gary Merrill - Col. Keith Davenport  
Millard Mitchell - Maj. Gen. Prichard  
Dean Jagger - Maj. Harvey Stovall 
Robert Arthur - Sgt. McIlhenny 
Paul Stewart - Maj. "Doc" Kaiser  
John Kellogg - Maj. Joe Cobb
Robert Patten - 2nd Lt. Jesse Bishop
Joyce Mackenzie - Lt. Nurse in Hospital

Running time: 132 Minutes

Rating: Not Rated

Year of Release: 1949 

To sum up: The enemy planes are coming in at 12 O'clock high! Just don't forget about
1 O'clock down, 7 O'clock east and 4:53 O'clock slightly to the right and up!! Gregory Peck is sent in to clean up a sloppy bomber squadron. 

Now, I don't have a lot of patience with this 'What are we fighting for?' stuff. We're in a war, a shooting war. We've got to fight. And some of us have got to die.”


        Generals have it tough. Allow me rephrase. Generals with a conscience have it tough. They have to get the job done, win the battles, and the wars. They have to send men to their deaths. Generals are in the headquarters and the grunts are in the trenches. And if the officers get too involved with their men, too close and friendly, if they care too much, it can interfere with effectively executing the battles that need to be fought.

It is this theme that 12 O'clock High explores.


        It's the summer of 1942. The Americans are trying to prove to the Allies that daylight bombing can be a key way of knocking out Germany's war machine. But, one of the squadrons is having trouble. Men are making mistakes and the squadron leader is too involved with his men, exhibiting too much sympathy and compromising the missions. The head General, Maj. General Prichard (Millard Mitchell), wants it nipped in the bud before it spreads to other crews. To accomplish this, he assigns Brig. Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) to step in and take over.

        So, when Peck arrives, he comes down hard from the start. He's hard on a guard who doesn't check his pass and just waves him through the entrance to the base. He's hard on a lazy pilot by assigning to him all of the other lazy pilots and forcing him to name his group and plane the "Leper Colony". Peck's even hard on his driver, with so many demotions and promotions, that it leaves the poor guy's head spinning. His theory being that what the group lacks is pride in hard work.


        Peck gives a good performance as a no-nonsense General whose demeanor, though harsh, does not conceal an empathy for the men he is pushing. He enables the film to quietly study the transformation of a man who can't help but become personally involved in sharing in and caring for his men's fate.


        From a technical standpoint, the film is solid. There is only one air battle and though actual war footage was used, it was not intrusive, and blended well enough with the studio shots as to not be distracting.


        What the film lacks, and could have used was a musical score. What we have here is a film that is almost wall to wall conversation; it needs some muzak. A musical presence would have leavened some of the flatness that the film had. I know I wish that all of my conversations had it.


        I was also curious about the "Leper Colony". What happened to it? One assumes that the leader got his act together, but we are never informed.


        These, however, are minor quibbles. Overall this film is on the money, with all of it's areas covered and very few dropped plot points.


You don't need to wait until 12 O'clock to see this.

(2010. Reviewed by Frederick Holbrook)


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