Published on September 19th, 2007 | by Chris2
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
This time it's the classic 1949's Twelve O'Clock High, starring (most notably) Gregory Peck. Instead of a wartime epic full of heroes and battles and celebrating the machines and the glory of victory, we get to examine the toll of constant action on the men, as command wants to find out exactly what "maximum effort" means.
Really its unusual in a way for an earlier film like this to get into the psychology of combat so deeply. Well as deeply as they dared, anyway. After a brief introduction where the base adjutant revisits the grown-over airfield in the future, we witness a bomber group returning from a mission that didn't go so well. Even though we're not shown the grisly details, it's described to us in painful and gory detail what happened to the crew of the current wing commander Davenport's (Gary Merrill) ship. That should give a clear indication of where we're headed.
Turns out that Archbury airfield is gaining a reputation for being at the bottom of the barrell, and so command relieves Davenport for getting too personally involved, and replaces him with the hardnosed General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck.) His job is to push this group of pilots, planes, and crewmen right to the edge, and to turn the group's reputation around.
In the process, though, he learns the hard way about the toll it takes on the group, and on each man. He loses several of his best, and eventually finds himself in the same shoes as Davenport.
Not to be outdone, he tries to get on one last mission, but cracks under the stress of it all.
The air combat scenes are almost painful to watch, as with each bomber going down (which was culled from the AAF archives) you realize that there's one more crew who was helplessly lost. Really there isn't a lot of combat action to speak of, but that's not the point of this picture.
The acting on all fronts is superb, especially Peck, Merrill, and Stovall. You really feel the desperation and tension as the movie rolls out.
Twelve O'Clock High is one of those that should be seen, just to show what happens when you ask 110% of people 100% of the time.
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Summary: Instead of a wartime epic full of heroes and battles and celebrating the machines and the glory of victory, we get to examine the toll of constant action on the men, as command wants to find out exactly what "maximum effort" means.