#10) Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

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#10) Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

OR “War is Peck”

Directed by Henry King

Written by Sy Barlett and Beirne Lay Jr. Based on the novel by Lay and Bartlett.

Class of 1998

The original trailer, which is mostly Gregory Peck talking at you.

With this film, we make the first of many stops into World War II. The events that occurred over these six years will lead to many of the films (both fictional and historical) we will be looking at. This war may have had the single most impact on American film.

The Plot: Based on true events, “Twelve O’Clock High” is the story of the Army’s 8th Air Force (specifically the 918th bomb group) and its attacks on Germany using daylight precision bombings. After several disastrous raids leading to many casualties, the 918th is given over to Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck). No-nonsense and an all around hard-ass, Savage shakes up the ranks (including promoting and demoting one sergeant throughout) and uses military red tape to stop his men from transferring on him. Savage eventually sees results and the raids become more successful. This leads to their most dangerous strike (loosely based on Black Thursday) in which the 918th will take down a ball bearing factory in Germany. But the iron will instilled in the group has started to take its toll, especially on Savage.

Why It Matters: The NFR cites Peck’s performance and the final aerial attack. It also mentions this being one of the first films about WWII to move away from the typical flag-waving propaganda to a more “war-is-hell” psychological study.

But Does It Really?: For the above, sure. But man do you have to slog through a long movie to get to all of the good stuff. I mean, it’s all important, but it’s so slow leading up to that last 25 minutes. The film is a lot of talking, specifically military jargon that, if you’re not too well-read on the subject, is going to leave you behind. Worse than that, most of the film is people telling rather than showing. A lot of interesting things happen in the film, just not in scenes we get to see. The final attack and subsequent character development is well worth it, but that’s all I can recommend with this one.

Shout Outs: One of the bombers is named “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Not a lot in this one, mainly being a WWII piece made not too long after the actual war. I do love me some repurposed stock footage though, as well as rear projection for effect shots.

Take a Shot: The phrase “twelve o’clock high” is said once, and only once, during the final aerial attack 105 minutes into the film. The characters in this film get to drink a lot more than you will.

Seriously, Oscars?: The film won two Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Dean Jagger (which makes sense since his is the most emotionally invested of the characters) and Best Sound Recording (even though it’s really only for the last scene). This film’s other two nominations – Picture and Actor for Peck – went instead to another NFR entry; “All the King’s Men”.

Other notes

  • Part of why this film seems to last a lot longer is that most of the scenes are done in long uninterrupted static shots of just two people talking. This ain’t “Rope”, buddy, spice things up!
  • During Savage’s first meeting with his troops, one of his men is definitely looking straight at the camera when he stands up. I see you.
  • Pretty gutsy having a character in a war film named Kaiser.
  • At one point Peck says the word “gadget” but pronounces it “gay-dget”. Anyone know if that’s an acceptable alternate pronunciation?
  • Not surprising for a war movie, there’s only one woman in the whole film; the nurse when Savage visits Gately. She’s uncredited, she has two lines, and I’m pretty sure the drawing on the Piccadilly Lily has more screen time than she does. Despite all of this, she ends up on the original poster.
  • For you air force buffs, the 8th Air Force (which was created just before the events of this film) is still flying to this day.

Legacy

  • Peck’s eventual return to the war as MacArthur.
  • A TV series based on the film, because hey why not?
  • Apparently this scene in “Star Wars” was influenced by the final attack.
  • Speaking of, Rian Johnson has said that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” will be influenced by “Twelve O’Clock High”. As of this writing that film hasn’t come out yet, so what say you, readers from the future?

AN UPDATE FROM THE FUTURE: 12/17/17 – “The Last Jedi” has finally been released. Yeah, I see it.

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