This gritty World War II action drama staring Gregory Peck, Oscar winner Dean Jagger, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill and Millard Mitchell is seen as one of the most realistic portrayals of the heroics and perils of war. Convin... more »ced an air force commander (Gary Merrill) is at the breaking point, Brigadier General Savage (Peck) takes over his struggling bomber group. Kind and understanding, he adopts a crushing discipline to revitalize the demoralized troop. At first resentful and rebellious, the flyers gradually change as Savage guides them to amazing feats. But the stress of command soon takes it's toll and the weary general reaches his own breaking point.« less
"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 and sound "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. (We have female dynamics aplenty.)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."
Bless them all...bless them all....
Robert Morris | Dallas, Texas | 07/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
I do not recall another film whose opening and closing scenes are more effective than those in this brilliant portrayal of the 918th Bombardment group based in England which flew almost daily missions to Germany during World War II. The character of General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) is reputedly based on Brigadier General Frank A. Armstrong, Jr. Sy Bartlett wrote the book and then the screenplay. Brilliantly directed by Henry King, we are introduced to a combination of combat fatigue and self-pity which results in the replacement of Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) by his friend Savage who is told by his commanding officer, General Pritchard (Millard Mitchell), to shape up the 918th while avoiding Davenport's problem: Becoming overly involved emotionally in decisions to send B-17 crews on exceptionally dangerous missions, day after day after day. Savage immediately establishes his authority and almost immediately loses whatever goodwill he may have had. He applies and then maintains constant pressure on the crews to improve their performance in all areas of flight operations. Underachievers are reassigned to one B-17 renamed "The Leper Colony." Morale deteriorates to such a point that those at headquarters become concerned. A formal investigation of the situation is conducted. This is a critical moment for Savage. If he has "lost" his men, he cannot continue. In fact, he expects to be relieved and begins to pack his personal items. However, for reasons best revealed in the film, Savage remains in command. And then....
It would be a disservice to those who have not as yet seen this film to say any more about the plot. Suffice to say that brilliant direction, great acting by everyone involved (notably by Dean Jagger who received an Academy Award for best actor in a supporting role), superb cinematography (Leon Shamroy), and haunting music (Alfred Newman) are seamlessly integrated in this analysis of effective leadership (especially decision-making) under wartime conditions. The film begins when Harry Stovall (Jagger) makes an especially significant purchase in an antique store and then proceeds to what has by then become an abandoned air base. As we begin to hear the bombers' propellers whine as the engines roar to life, we are transported back in time. Later, as the film ends, civilian Stovall climbs back on his rented bike and departs what is again an abandoned air base. Stunning images throughout both sequences.
Peck included this among his favorite films, while adding that he was especially proud of his performance as Frank Savage. When first released more than 50 years ago, it did not receive the recognition (much less the appreciation) it so obviously deserves. Whenever CEOs and other senior-level executives ask me to suggest war films which offer important lessons about leadership and management, Twelve O'Clock High is first on the list, joined by (in alphabetical order) Command Decision, The Dirty Dozen, The Enemy Below, Fort Apache, The Hunt for Red October, Paths of Glory, Pork Chop Hill, The Red Badge of Courage, They Were Expendable, and Zulu."
A Story Worth The Whole Nine Yards
!Edwin C. Pauzer | New York City | 10/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If there is one war story to keep on your shelf besides "Saving Private Ryan," this is it.
It starts with a lawyer visiting England as a tourist years after war's end. He discovers a cheap, ceramic antique which the store owner tells him is of little value. "Value?" replies the lawyer. "Wrap it very carefully" he adds. So begins his mental journey back in time to the English airstrip where he served as adjutant of the 918th (nine, eighteenth) Bomb Group.
This "hard luck" group is taken over by a brigadier general from a colonel who has "over-identified" with his men, thus putting them before his missions. The general, Frank Savage, must restore group discipline and performance before the group disintegrates as an effective fighting unit.
General Savage puts mission before men and turns the disgruntled men who despise him into a cohesive unit. They turn into a group that will do anything to keep from being left behind, or letting down their new leader. (Each announcement of a mission for the following day is characterized by the operations officer going to the mantel over the fireplace, in the Officers' Club, and turning the head of a ceramic pirate face outward.)
But the tough general will not make the same mistake that the last group commander makes. He will always keep the mission first, and will not over-identify with his men. He will not let the loss of his men affect him.
Or, will he?
This black & white story is exceptional and superbly acted. It shows the mental tug-of-war a leader must make in the decisions that will cost the lives of men he has come to admire and respect. It depicts how the ugliness of war brings out the best in ourselves, and creates fraternal bonds that last a lifetime.
This is not a gory story, but it is one that will leave you breathless. It may sadden you, but it will not disappoint you. It does not end with everyone living, or happy.
War never does.
P.S. The "whole nine yards" refers to the length of ammunition in a box that was attached to each machine gun in the bomber. When the linked ammunition was stretched to its full length, it measured nine yards."
Wait for the Director's Cut
Michael T Kennedy | Mission Viejo, CA USA | 11/24/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I was disappointed when the DVD version of this film was released. I saw it in theaters in 1949 (probably 10 times)and still recall several missing scenes that are important to the plot. When the DVD came out I was excited thinking that surely they would have been restored in this format without the space constraints of VHS. I was wrong. The current cut, for example, does not explain the significance of the Toby mug that Dean Jagger finds in a London shop and replaces on the airbase officers' club mantlepiece. There are others, such as what happens to the young navigator and why. Obviously, I think this is one of the greatest war movies of all time. I just hope someday a director's cut is released with all the missing scenes restored. It's still worth buying but the film is incomplete without the missing scenes."
An interesting study on leadership
Paul Cairney | APO, AE United States | 04/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first time I saw "Twelve O'Clock High" was when I watched it as part of a course at the US Air Force Academy. I thought it was exceptional then and I think so still now more than ten years later. By today's standards, it may seem poor in its special effects, but as a look into combat leadership it is superior. This film demonstrates how military leadership has nothing to do with medals and parades, but a constant battle to make a group of people do a thankless, unglorious job. This movie does a great job in showing the strains of leadership and the personal sacrifices one must make to succeed in war. Gregory Peck stars as a very human leader who makes mistakes and yet still presses on, and also one who gives everything he's got to make his unit the best it can be -- for their sake and not for his. Aspiring leaders, and those who need a refresher course, should watch this one many times over."