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Twelve O'Clock High

Updated: May 30, 2023

My Dad flew countless B-17 missions during World War II and while he was always reserved about sharing too many of those stores beyond saying they were terrifying, his passion for great war films was unbridled.

One of his all-time favorites was the 1949 classic TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH.

While my older brother Mark and I never missed watching an episode of the sixties TV series of the same name, I had never seen the original film on which it was based.

Using only real battle footage just a few years after the conflict ended, the film packs a punch.

Gregory Peck is in classic movie star form as General Savage, a tough commander brought in to take over a bombing unit suffering from soft leadership and low morale.

With American forces participating in the first daytime bombing raids of Nazi Germany, every flight matters, and every man must be counted on.

Avoiding cliches, the screenplay by Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay Jr. is based on their actual experiences in the war. The film is often cited by veterans of the war (and my Dad) as the most realistic depiction of flying missions into enemy territory.

A who’s who of 40’s and 50s-character actors deliver, including Gary Merrill as Colonel Davenport and Millard Mitchell as General Pritchard. Dean Jagger is terrific as Major Stovall, giving off nice echoes of “White Christmas” for any fans of that annual classic.

Front and center, Peck delivers as the aptly named Savage. Establishing order and respect from the moment he steps on the base; he suffers no fools. The last half of the film surprised me in where it took Savage. This is not your off-the-shelf, standard rah-rah war film, but it provides those thrills as well.

The legendary Alfred Newman (Airport, How the West Was Won) composed a music score, but it can only he heard over the opening and closing credits, leaving the quiet moments and air battles to speak for themselves.

Nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor for Peck, it won Best Sound and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Jagger.

More than 70 years after its release, TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH holds up as a testament to the greatest generation, delivering an all-time war film great and earning an A.

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