Twelve O'Clock High


2h 12m 1949
Twelve O'Clock High

Brief Synopsis

The head of a World War II bomber squadron cracks under the pressure.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
Jan 1949
Premiere Information
World premiere in Los Angeles: 21 Dec 1949; New York opening: 26 Jan 1950.
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Twelve O'Clock High by Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett (New York, 1948).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 12m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11,914ft (14 reels)

Synopsis

In 1949 London, American tourist Harvey Stovall is drawn to a battered Toby jug in the window of an antique shop. After purchasing the mug, Harvey travels to the small country village of Archbury and bicycles out to an overgrown, abandoned airfield where he recalls events that began seven years earlier: In 1942, members of the U.S. Eighth Army Air Force 918th Bombardment Group return to their base in Archbury after a bombing strike. Following the crash landing of a crippled B-17 Flying Fortress, group commander Colonel Keith Davenport, adjutant Major Harvey Stovall and group surgeon Major "Doc" Kaiser meet the surviving crew members at interrogation. Distraught over the harrowing mission, co-pilot Lt. Jesse Bishop bolts, leaving Lt. "Willie" Wilson to detail the attack, after which Keith recommends Jesse for the Congressional Medal of Honor. At the base center, after Air Executive Lt. Colonel Ben Gately, Harvey and Doc listen to British turncoat and radio broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw declare the Eighth Air Force's daylight bombing strategy a failure, Ben informs Keith that the group has been placed on maximum effort strike alert for the next day, despite their loss of five planes. Doc warns Keith that there are signs of group burnout and wonders if anyone knows the parameters of an individual "maximum effort." Keith is appalled by the next day's orders, which sets the bombing altitude at 9,000 feet, and vists command headquarters at Pine Tree to consult with his close friend, Brigadier General Frank Savage. Frank admits to issuing the bombing orders personally, in hopes of increasing the bombers' level of concentration and accuracy. When Frank asks Keith about the 918th's continued misfortunes, Keith reveals the men's anxiety at the uncertain potential of daylight bombing and agrees with their misgivings. After Keith returns to the base, command leader General Pritchard contacts Frank about the day's losses and Frank admits he believes the 918th's problem lies with Keith's over-identification with his men. Alarmed, Pritchard has Frank accompany him to Archbury, where Keith goes over the causes for the mission's disruption. When the group's lead navigator, Lt. Zimmerman, admits his error caused a critical delay in reaching the target for a coordinated strike, Keith claims full responsibility. After dismissing Zimmerman, Pritchard presses Keith to instigate necessary changes, but when Keith refuses to replace Zimmerman, Pritchard relieves him of command. On the return to Pine Tree, Pritchard tells Frank how crucial it is to justify daylight bombing, then asks Frank to take over the 918th. The following day, Frank returns to Archbury as the new commander and finds the base in disarray over Keith's reassignment and Zimmerman's subsequent suicide. Discovering Harvey moderately drunk and Ben AWOL, Frank orders Ben to be brought in under arrest and has Harvey provide all the base personnel files for a complete restructuring of the group. When the MPs bring in Ben, Frank berates him for shirking his responsibilities, and accuses him of cowardice, then demotes him to flight commander and orders him to name his plane "The Leper Colony," where all the group "deadbeats" will be assigned. During the next morning's briefing, Frank lectures the group about their need to stop pitying themselves, accept that they are fighting a war and consider themselves already dead. Later, Frank is gratified when Squadron Commander Major Joe Cobb accepts his request to take over as the new Air Executive, but disagrees with Doc, who advises him to ease up on the men. Later, Frank is let down, however, when Jesse, representing all the pilots, informs him they want transfers. When Frank wonders how he might gain time to win the group's loyalty, Harvey, who is warming to his new commander, suggests the transfer requests might be intentionally delayed. Over the next few days, Frank takes the group through grueling flight practices until Harvey informs him that new field orders have come down for a mission. The men find about about new mission orders by having a Toby jug on the mantel in the officer's club turned face outward. The next two missions prove fairly successful, but Frank continues to drive the men hard and ignores queries about the transfers. Keith, now on Pritchard's staff, visits Archbury to warn Frank that rumors about the delayed transfers have prompted an investigation of the 918th by the Inspector General. During the next mission, bad weather forces the entire command's recall and only the 918th fails to return, bringing an anxious Pritchard to Archbury. When the group returns from a successful bombing raid without losses, Frank insists he had radio failure and never heard the recall order. Pritchard angrily chastizes him, but Frank demands the group receive a commendation for their persistence and courage. Afterward, Frank privately questions Jesse about the group's response to the commendation, but the Medal of Honor winner admits he remains unsure about the value of daylight bombing. Despite Frank's earnest appeal, Jesse insists he wants to leave the Air Force. The next day, while the Inspector General examines the pilots, Frank begins packing his belongings, convinced that he will be removed from command. Joe bursts in with the news that Jesse halted the inspection by withdrawing his transfer request, causing the other pilots to follow suit. Frank is momentarily overcome, but covers up with a bluster of stern orders. The next mission takes the 918th into Germany for the first time and upon their return, Frank discovers his driver, Sgt. McIllhenny, had stowed aboard his plane, and Joe reveals Harvey, Doc and even the reverend, Capt. Twombley, had also stowed aboard various planes in order to participate in the first German raid. Although secretly pleased, Frank nevertheless berates Harvey. A few missions later, Joe leads a raid in which Jesse's plane is lost, but Frank masks his distress at the news. When Doc tells Frank that Ben has been hospitalized after flying three missions with a painful cracked vertebrae, Frank visits Ben in the hospital. Although Ben says little to Frank, he is deeply moved by the general's sincere expression of respect and concern. Soon after, the combined chiefs of staff devise a major strike plan on German ball-bearing factories that, if successful, would validate daylight bombing. On the first of the three crucial raids, Frank witnesses Joe's plane receive a direct hit, but responds nonchalantly back at the base. The next morning while preparing to lead the next raid, however, Frank is abruptly unable to pull himself into the cockpit and grows disoriented and shaky. Ben assists him from the plane before taking command of the mission. As the bombers taxi down the runway, Frank gets hysterical, insisting the mission be aborted as Harvey and Keith struggle to subdue him. Back at the base, Frank falls into a comatose state of shock for the duration of the mission and only revives when the 918th successfully returns from their raid. Harvey's reminiscences come to an end and he gives a final glance around Archbury's ghostly remains before bicycling away.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
War
Release Date
Jan 1949
Premiere Information
World premiere in Los Angeles: 21 Dec 1949; New York opening: 26 Jan 1950.
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Twelve O'Clock High by Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett (New York, 1948).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 12m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11,914ft (14 reels)

Award Wins

Best Sound

1949

Best Supporting Actor

1949
Dean Jagger

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1949
Gregory Peck

Best Picture

1949

Articles

Twelve O'Clock High (1949) - Twelve O'Clock High


Twelve O'Clock High (1949) steps into the cockpit of the traditional World War II movie and flies it in unexpected directions. It's traditional because it has many of the usual ingredients for a story about American soldiers in the European theater - a bomber unit, tension between superior officers and subordinates, tense missions to distant targets, aerial dogfights with German planes, and the rest. Yet it's refreshing because the emphasis is on psychology and human drama rather than harrowing combat and guts-and-glory spectacle. It thoroughly merited its Academy Award nomination for Best Picture of 1949 - it lost to Robert Rossen's political drama All the King's Men - and star Gregory Peck, who lost to Broderick Crawford in Rossen's film, would have been a worthy winner for Best Actor. Well-deserved Oscars® did go to Dean Jagger for his marvelous portrayal of a gentle old officer and to the sound department's excellent work.

The bulk of the story takes place in 1942. The location is an American airbase in the English countryside, and the characters are soldiers in the 918th Bomb Group, flying a steady run of missions aimed at destroying German-held targets. It's an arduous assignment, and the men have been stretched to their physical and psychological limits. A crisis arises when fatigue causes a conscientious young flyer to make a serious mistake. The highest-ranking officer, Major General Pat Pritchard (Millard Mitchell), declares that errors are unacceptable and insists that the stressed-out flyer leave the unit. This sets up a conflict between Pritchard and Colonel Ernie Davenport (Gary Merrill), the group's commander, who treats his men as equals and feels their pain as if it were his own.

Pritchard prevails - he is a general, after all - and then replaces Davenport with General Frank Savage (Peck), an "iron-tailed" desk officer who believes that a properly run unit has no room for sympathy, empathy, or sentiment of any kind. He sees his job as pushing every member of the group to what the rules call "maximum effort," an ill-defined concept that even the unit's physician, Captain "Doc" Kaiser (Paul Stewart), finds vague and potentially dangerous. Savage sets to work, determined to heighten the courage, improve the stamina, and adjust the attitude of every man in his outfit. This means pushing himself as hard as he pushes the others, and in a remarkable plot twist, it turns out he isn't able to meet his own high standards, leading to a surprising climax. The relatively small amount of combat depicted by the film comes in the later scenes, and even then the story makes human drama its highest priority.

Peck turned down Twelve O'Clock High the first time Twentieth Century-Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck tried to enlist him. Peck thought the project was too much like Sam Wood's somewhat similar Command Decision, which lost a good deal of MGM's money in 1948 even though it had Clark Gable at the head of a cast including Van Johnson, Brian Donlevy, Walter Pidgeon, Edward Arnold, and other solid actors with familiar faces. Zanuck waited a year, according to Peck biographer Michael Freedland, and then came up with a convincing argument. There were too many stars in Wood's picture, Zanuck told Peck, and the audience couldn't help seeing them as stars rather than characters. By contrast, he continued, Twelve O'Clock High would have just one star - none other than Peck, of course - plus Jagger, a great character actor who had "promised to play it without his toupee on." Apart from those two, Zanuck said, "I want to make it with unknowns." This was something of an overstatement - today at least, movie buffs have no trouble recognizing Millard Mitchell, Hugh Marlowe, or Paul Stewart - but Peck bought the argument and signed on.

If the $2 million picture was to be as authentic as Zanuck hoped, the Air Force had to sign on as well. Accordingly, the producer wrote a letter requesting cooperation, sending it to the Air Force chief of staff and dropping some big names, including "Ike," better known as Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1943 until the end of the war. Zanuck added that the screenplay would be based on an eponymous novel (by Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett) that was popular with Air Force officers. He also claimed that the "powerful, sincere, and dramatic story" would be "tremendous propaganda" for the service. Again his argument worked, although the Air Force reserved its right to approve the screenplay before kicking in with help.

After reading the completed script, officers at the Pentagon were uncomfortable about Savage's breakdown under excessive strain, saying they would "prefer not to indicate to the public that a commanding general...became as irrational as indicated." Such a high-ranking officer might suffer from "physical ailments, nervousness, short temper or just plain fatigue," the Air Force reasoned, but he would never "burst out hysterically or have a complete mental collapse." By some accounts, Savage's character in general, and his mental-health problems in particular, were modeled on Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., an Air Force major general who led the first daylight Flying Fortress raids on the European Continent, as Savage does in the film. Still, the screenplay was modified to give Savage a "quieter, more subtle breakdown," in Freedland's words. Other revisions made at the Air Force's request included toning down the heavy drinking and having the chaplain watch other men playing poker, not joining in the game himself.

Keeping its end of the bargain, the Air Force supplied the production with assistance and equipment, including a dozen used B-17 bombers gathered from the Air-Sea Rescue Service and retrofitted to their combat configurations. The airborne combat scenes were created with actual wartime footage taken by cameras on both American and German planes, which meant that only landings, takeoffs, and close-formation maneuvers had to be shot expressly for the film. The studio bought a new B-17 for the scene displaying the crash landing of a badly damaged plane; it was flown by Paul Mantz, a top-flight stunt pilot with almost a hundred Hollywood crashes already to his credit. Henry King, the Hollywood veteran who directed the picture, blended all the ingredients into a harmonious yet hard-hitting whole, aided by Leon Shamroy's crisp camerawork and Barbara McLean's impeccable film editing.

Hearing some of Savage's dialogue out of context, you would think he was as mean, callous, and uncaring about human values as the most unpleasant old commander in a conventional war movie built around deadly face-offs and ferocious firefights. In his first big speech to his unit Savage says, "Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it [the dangerous mission] won't be so tough." Dressing down Lieutenant Colonel Ben Gately (Marlowe) for stepping away from his post, he goes beyond discipline to sheer humiliation: "I want you to paint this name on the nose of your ship: 'Leper Colony.' Because in it you're going to get every deadbeat in the outfit....If there's a navigator who can't find the men's room, you get him. Because you rate him." And so on. The wonder of Peck's superb performance is his ability to make every word hit hard without letting us lose sight of the commitment, dedication, and devotion to his men that motivate him far more than the lust for power and domination that drives many officers in war pictures. Decades after its premiere, Twelve O'Clock High still packs a powerful dramatic punch.

Director: Henry King
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay: Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr.
Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy
Film Editing: Barbara McLean
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Maurice Ransford
Music: Alfred Newman
With: Gregory Peck (General Savage), Hugh Marlowe (Lt. Col. Ben Gately), Gary Merrill (Col. Davenport), Millard Mitchell (General Pritchard), Dean Jagger (Major Stovall), Robert Arthur (Sergeant McIllhenny), Paul Stewart (Capt. "Doc" Kaiser), John Kellogg (Major Cobb), Bob Patten (Lt. Bishop), Lee MacGregor (Lt. Zimmerman), Sam Edwards (Birdwell), Roger Anderson (Interrogation Officer)
BW-132m.

by David Sterritt
Twelve O'clock High (1949) - Twelve O'clock High

Twelve O'Clock High (1949) - Twelve O'Clock High

Twelve O'Clock High (1949) steps into the cockpit of the traditional World War II movie and flies it in unexpected directions. It's traditional because it has many of the usual ingredients for a story about American soldiers in the European theater - a bomber unit, tension between superior officers and subordinates, tense missions to distant targets, aerial dogfights with German planes, and the rest. Yet it's refreshing because the emphasis is on psychology and human drama rather than harrowing combat and guts-and-glory spectacle. It thoroughly merited its Academy Award nomination for Best Picture of 1949 - it lost to Robert Rossen's political drama All the King's Men - and star Gregory Peck, who lost to Broderick Crawford in Rossen's film, would have been a worthy winner for Best Actor. Well-deserved Oscars® did go to Dean Jagger for his marvelous portrayal of a gentle old officer and to the sound department's excellent work. The bulk of the story takes place in 1942. The location is an American airbase in the English countryside, and the characters are soldiers in the 918th Bomb Group, flying a steady run of missions aimed at destroying German-held targets. It's an arduous assignment, and the men have been stretched to their physical and psychological limits. A crisis arises when fatigue causes a conscientious young flyer to make a serious mistake. The highest-ranking officer, Major General Pat Pritchard (Millard Mitchell), declares that errors are unacceptable and insists that the stressed-out flyer leave the unit. This sets up a conflict between Pritchard and Colonel Ernie Davenport (Gary Merrill), the group's commander, who treats his men as equals and feels their pain as if it were his own. Pritchard prevails - he is a general, after all - and then replaces Davenport with General Frank Savage (Peck), an "iron-tailed" desk officer who believes that a properly run unit has no room for sympathy, empathy, or sentiment of any kind. He sees his job as pushing every member of the group to what the rules call "maximum effort," an ill-defined concept that even the unit's physician, Captain "Doc" Kaiser (Paul Stewart), finds vague and potentially dangerous. Savage sets to work, determined to heighten the courage, improve the stamina, and adjust the attitude of every man in his outfit. This means pushing himself as hard as he pushes the others, and in a remarkable plot twist, it turns out he isn't able to meet his own high standards, leading to a surprising climax. The relatively small amount of combat depicted by the film comes in the later scenes, and even then the story makes human drama its highest priority. Peck turned down Twelve O'Clock High the first time Twentieth Century-Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck tried to enlist him. Peck thought the project was too much like Sam Wood's somewhat similar Command Decision, which lost a good deal of MGM's money in 1948 even though it had Clark Gable at the head of a cast including Van Johnson, Brian Donlevy, Walter Pidgeon, Edward Arnold, and other solid actors with familiar faces. Zanuck waited a year, according to Peck biographer Michael Freedland, and then came up with a convincing argument. There were too many stars in Wood's picture, Zanuck told Peck, and the audience couldn't help seeing them as stars rather than characters. By contrast, he continued, Twelve O'Clock High would have just one star - none other than Peck, of course - plus Jagger, a great character actor who had "promised to play it without his toupee on." Apart from those two, Zanuck said, "I want to make it with unknowns." This was something of an overstatement - today at least, movie buffs have no trouble recognizing Millard Mitchell, Hugh Marlowe, or Paul Stewart - but Peck bought the argument and signed on. If the $2 million picture was to be as authentic as Zanuck hoped, the Air Force had to sign on as well. Accordingly, the producer wrote a letter requesting cooperation, sending it to the Air Force chief of staff and dropping some big names, including "Ike," better known as Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1943 until the end of the war. Zanuck added that the screenplay would be based on an eponymous novel (by Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett) that was popular with Air Force officers. He also claimed that the "powerful, sincere, and dramatic story" would be "tremendous propaganda" for the service. Again his argument worked, although the Air Force reserved its right to approve the screenplay before kicking in with help. After reading the completed script, officers at the Pentagon were uncomfortable about Savage's breakdown under excessive strain, saying they would "prefer not to indicate to the public that a commanding general...became as irrational as indicated." Such a high-ranking officer might suffer from "physical ailments, nervousness, short temper or just plain fatigue," the Air Force reasoned, but he would never "burst out hysterically or have a complete mental collapse." By some accounts, Savage's character in general, and his mental-health problems in particular, were modeled on Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., an Air Force major general who led the first daylight Flying Fortress raids on the European Continent, as Savage does in the film. Still, the screenplay was modified to give Savage a "quieter, more subtle breakdown," in Freedland's words. Other revisions made at the Air Force's request included toning down the heavy drinking and having the chaplain watch other men playing poker, not joining in the game himself. Keeping its end of the bargain, the Air Force supplied the production with assistance and equipment, including a dozen used B-17 bombers gathered from the Air-Sea Rescue Service and retrofitted to their combat configurations. The airborne combat scenes were created with actual wartime footage taken by cameras on both American and German planes, which meant that only landings, takeoffs, and close-formation maneuvers had to be shot expressly for the film. The studio bought a new B-17 for the scene displaying the crash landing of a badly damaged plane; it was flown by Paul Mantz, a top-flight stunt pilot with almost a hundred Hollywood crashes already to his credit. Henry King, the Hollywood veteran who directed the picture, blended all the ingredients into a harmonious yet hard-hitting whole, aided by Leon Shamroy's crisp camerawork and Barbara McLean's impeccable film editing. Hearing some of Savage's dialogue out of context, you would think he was as mean, callous, and uncaring about human values as the most unpleasant old commander in a conventional war movie built around deadly face-offs and ferocious firefights. In his first big speech to his unit Savage says, "Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it [the dangerous mission] won't be so tough." Dressing down Lieutenant Colonel Ben Gately (Marlowe) for stepping away from his post, he goes beyond discipline to sheer humiliation: "I want you to paint this name on the nose of your ship: 'Leper Colony.' Because in it you're going to get every deadbeat in the outfit....If there's a navigator who can't find the men's room, you get him. Because you rate him." And so on. The wonder of Peck's superb performance is his ability to make every word hit hard without letting us lose sight of the commitment, dedication, and devotion to his men that motivate him far more than the lust for power and domination that drives many officers in war pictures. Decades after its premiere, Twelve O'Clock High still packs a powerful dramatic punch. Director: Henry King Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck Screenplay: Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr. Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy Film Editing: Barbara McLean Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Maurice Ransford Music: Alfred Newman With: Gregory Peck (General Savage), Hugh Marlowe (Lt. Col. Ben Gately), Gary Merrill (Col. Davenport), Millard Mitchell (General Pritchard), Dean Jagger (Major Stovall), Robert Arthur (Sergeant McIllhenny), Paul Stewart (Capt. "Doc" Kaiser), John Kellogg (Major Cobb), Bob Patten (Lt. Bishop), Lee MacGregor (Lt. Zimmerman), Sam Edwards (Birdwell), Roger Anderson (Interrogation Officer) BW-132m. by David Sterritt

Twelve O'Clock High (Special Edition) - The Special Edition of the WW2 Classic TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH on DVD


In the heat of World War II, Hollywood's contribution to the war effort was to produce films that inspired pride, patriotism, duty, and a sense of inevitability in the American triumph. While there were notable exceptions to the formula (John Ford's They Were Expendable, made after the tide had turned in the war in the Pacific, portrayed the early years of the battle in uncompromisingly grim terms), it wasn't until the war was over that directors took a harder look at the toll that the battle took on American bodies, psyches, and souls.

Most of those films walked a mile in the shoes of enlisted servicemen to give audiences a grunt's-eye view of combat. Twelve O'Clock High was one of the first and arguably the greatest of the Hollywood films to examine the pressures of command and psychological toll of making life and death decisions for men they come know and care for. It was based on a novel by veteran screenwriter Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr., who served in World War II under Air Force Brigadier General Frank Savage, the officer who directed the first U.S. precision daylight bombings on German industry in 1942. They witnessed firsthand the effects of fatigue and trauma as he sent fliers out on deadly mission after mission. Their novel, though a fictionalized account, was based upon their observations and inspired by their respect for the General.

The film opens with a middle-aged American in London (Dean Jagger) visiting a now overgrown landing strip in the English countryside, his memory drifting back to the war. The gentle, nostalgic tone of the prologue is broken by the chaos of that flashback: American bombers returning from a devastating mission. Base commander Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) skitters out of his plane in a state of anxiety – not the portrait of calm military leadership we're used to seeing – and takes stock of injuries and losses of his men. "What to we do with his arm?" asks one man of another injured crewman, a horrifying line that communicates the violence of the ordeal without showing a onscreen single injury. "Our stinking luck," is Davenport's explanation for having the worst losses of the air groups. Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) sees a crisis in leadership – Davenport is too emotionally involved with his men to effectively command them as soldiers – that has spiraled into a crippling morale problem. Savage is sent to take over "the hard luck group" and he blows in like a hurricane, upending the base with disciplinary measures and tough talk to shake them out of their crippling funk. The revolt is immediate and overwhelming – every pilot puts in for an immediate transfer – but his Group Adjutant, Major Stovall (Dean Jagger), sees method where others see madness and slows the requests until Savage can win their respect through mission successes.

Gregory Peck was Zanuck's first choice to play Savage, but he had turned down earlier drafts of the script. Even when he finally signed on, he was nervous about playing a officer onscreen as he had not served in World War II – he had been classified 4-F due to a ruptured vertebrae. He need not have worried. Peck gives one of his most thoughtful and measured performances. In the words of director Henry King, "Greg Peck entered into this thing and he actually became the kind of general that General Kepner [the Air Force production liaison] was, one of those quiet determined men that go straight ahead and get the job finished." Peck, in turn, was impressed with King's enthusiasm and professionalism and continued the creative partnership through five further features, starting in 1950 with the superior adult western The Gunfighter. Peck delivers one of his most thoughtful performances as Savage and earned his fourth Oscar nomination, yet arguably his most effective scene is early in the film, during his final moment of calm before he storms onto the base. Stopping by a river, where the gentle burble is the flowing water is like soothing music, he lights a cigarette to calm his nerves and steel himself for the job to be done, and then steps back in and drives on. Savage is like an actor preparing for his entrance, and in a way that's exactly what he is. Only the audience and the stakes are different.

Dean Jagger took home a well deserved Oscar as Peck's thoughtful right hand man, a "retread" restricted to a desk job for this war who brings his civilian skills (he's a lawyer, he explains to Savage) in support of his client, which happens to be the United States Air Force. The supporting cast includes Hugh Marlowe and Gary Merrill, who both co-starred in All About Eve the next year, Paul Stewart (of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater Company) as the base doctor who asks for a definition of "maximum effort," and Millard Mitchell (best known as the Singin' In the Rain studio boss) as the Major General who begins to see the same cracks in Brigadier General Savage that broke his predecessor.

The production depended upon a cooperative relationship with the Air Force, if only for the physical demands of military planes and the airfield location, and military approval was not a sure thing for a drama that explored the chinks in the military armor. In fact, the film had champions in the military who were impressed with the film's seriousness and with Zanuck's vision, and agreed to help with only a few changes to the script. One of the changes is responsible for one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. Where the novel portrayed a nervous breakdown in a scene of hysterics, the Air Force requested a more subtle approach, suggesting in a memo: "He would be more likely to break down with... just plain fatigue." It becomes a riveting scene of stillness and tension and a striking portrait of the vulnerability of the human psyche under "maximum effort."

The production was shot predominantly as Elgin Field in Florida, which King scouted by air while piloting his own plane. Ozark Field in Alabama doubled for the scenes of the overgrown field of the prologue and epilogue. The air battles were cut together from authentic World War II combat footage from the Air Force archives, previously unseen by the public. The film was a critical hit and a commercial success and, to this day, military men hold Twelve O'Clock High in high esteem as one of the only films to accurately portray the experience of men in war and leaders under fire. The film is still used by both the military and by corporations to teach leadership and teambuilding skills.

The new 20th Century Fox two-disc "Cinema Classics Collection" edition of the film features a strong, sharp transfer with a few signs of age around the edges of some scenes. The exception is the combat footage, which is taken from Air Force archives and is understandably scruffy. Nick Redman plays host to the informative commentary track, which is largely dominated by film historian Rudy Behlmer (a familiar voice on many Warner discs), who fills the talk with production history and details. Jon Burlingame is on hand to comment on Alfred Newman's score (which is limited to the framing sequences – this is a rare Hollywood studio production that plays out without a traditional underscore) and Newman's relationship with studio head Darryl F. Zanuck. A more focused production history can be found in the 30 minute featurette "Memories of Twelve O'Clock High," an efficient documentary featuring Behlmer and other film and military historians. The same crew can be found commenting on the short featurettes "WWII and the American Home Front," "Inspiring a Character: General Frank A. Armstrong," and "The Pilots of the Eight Air Force," which together serve as a brief introduction to the historical background of the film. Also comes with an insert featuring brief production notes and an envelope with four postcard-size B&W stills.

For more information about Twelve O'Clock High (Special Edition), visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Twelve O'Clock High, go to TCM Shopping.

by Sean Axmaker

Twelve O'Clock High (Special Edition) - The Special Edition of the WW2 Classic TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH on DVD

In the heat of World War II, Hollywood's contribution to the war effort was to produce films that inspired pride, patriotism, duty, and a sense of inevitability in the American triumph. While there were notable exceptions to the formula (John Ford's They Were Expendable, made after the tide had turned in the war in the Pacific, portrayed the early years of the battle in uncompromisingly grim terms), it wasn't until the war was over that directors took a harder look at the toll that the battle took on American bodies, psyches, and souls. Most of those films walked a mile in the shoes of enlisted servicemen to give audiences a grunt's-eye view of combat. Twelve O'Clock High was one of the first and arguably the greatest of the Hollywood films to examine the pressures of command and psychological toll of making life and death decisions for men they come know and care for. It was based on a novel by veteran screenwriter Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr., who served in World War II under Air Force Brigadier General Frank Savage, the officer who directed the first U.S. precision daylight bombings on German industry in 1942. They witnessed firsthand the effects of fatigue and trauma as he sent fliers out on deadly mission after mission. Their novel, though a fictionalized account, was based upon their observations and inspired by their respect for the General. The film opens with a middle-aged American in London (Dean Jagger) visiting a now overgrown landing strip in the English countryside, his memory drifting back to the war. The gentle, nostalgic tone of the prologue is broken by the chaos of that flashback: American bombers returning from a devastating mission. Base commander Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) skitters out of his plane in a state of anxiety – not the portrait of calm military leadership we're used to seeing – and takes stock of injuries and losses of his men. "What to we do with his arm?" asks one man of another injured crewman, a horrifying line that communicates the violence of the ordeal without showing a onscreen single injury. "Our stinking luck," is Davenport's explanation for having the worst losses of the air groups. Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) sees a crisis in leadership – Davenport is too emotionally involved with his men to effectively command them as soldiers – that has spiraled into a crippling morale problem. Savage is sent to take over "the hard luck group" and he blows in like a hurricane, upending the base with disciplinary measures and tough talk to shake them out of their crippling funk. The revolt is immediate and overwhelming – every pilot puts in for an immediate transfer – but his Group Adjutant, Major Stovall (Dean Jagger), sees method where others see madness and slows the requests until Savage can win their respect through mission successes. Gregory Peck was Zanuck's first choice to play Savage, but he had turned down earlier drafts of the script. Even when he finally signed on, he was nervous about playing a officer onscreen as he had not served in World War II – he had been classified 4-F due to a ruptured vertebrae. He need not have worried. Peck gives one of his most thoughtful and measured performances. In the words of director Henry King, "Greg Peck entered into this thing and he actually became the kind of general that General Kepner [the Air Force production liaison] was, one of those quiet determined men that go straight ahead and get the job finished." Peck, in turn, was impressed with King's enthusiasm and professionalism and continued the creative partnership through five further features, starting in 1950 with the superior adult western The Gunfighter. Peck delivers one of his most thoughtful performances as Savage and earned his fourth Oscar nomination, yet arguably his most effective scene is early in the film, during his final moment of calm before he storms onto the base. Stopping by a river, where the gentle burble is the flowing water is like soothing music, he lights a cigarette to calm his nerves and steel himself for the job to be done, and then steps back in and drives on. Savage is like an actor preparing for his entrance, and in a way that's exactly what he is. Only the audience and the stakes are different. Dean Jagger took home a well deserved Oscar as Peck's thoughtful right hand man, a "retread" restricted to a desk job for this war who brings his civilian skills (he's a lawyer, he explains to Savage) in support of his client, which happens to be the United States Air Force. The supporting cast includes Hugh Marlowe and Gary Merrill, who both co-starred in All About Eve the next year, Paul Stewart (of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater Company) as the base doctor who asks for a definition of "maximum effort," and Millard Mitchell (best known as the Singin' In the Rain studio boss) as the Major General who begins to see the same cracks in Brigadier General Savage that broke his predecessor. The production depended upon a cooperative relationship with the Air Force, if only for the physical demands of military planes and the airfield location, and military approval was not a sure thing for a drama that explored the chinks in the military armor. In fact, the film had champions in the military who were impressed with the film's seriousness and with Zanuck's vision, and agreed to help with only a few changes to the script. One of the changes is responsible for one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. Where the novel portrayed a nervous breakdown in a scene of hysterics, the Air Force requested a more subtle approach, suggesting in a memo: "He would be more likely to break down with... just plain fatigue." It becomes a riveting scene of stillness and tension and a striking portrait of the vulnerability of the human psyche under "maximum effort." The production was shot predominantly as Elgin Field in Florida, which King scouted by air while piloting his own plane. Ozark Field in Alabama doubled for the scenes of the overgrown field of the prologue and epilogue. The air battles were cut together from authentic World War II combat footage from the Air Force archives, previously unseen by the public. The film was a critical hit and a commercial success and, to this day, military men hold Twelve O'Clock High in high esteem as one of the only films to accurately portray the experience of men in war and leaders under fire. The film is still used by both the military and by corporations to teach leadership and teambuilding skills. The new 20th Century Fox two-disc "Cinema Classics Collection" edition of the film features a strong, sharp transfer with a few signs of age around the edges of some scenes. The exception is the combat footage, which is taken from Air Force archives and is understandably scruffy. Nick Redman plays host to the informative commentary track, which is largely dominated by film historian Rudy Behlmer (a familiar voice on many Warner discs), who fills the talk with production history and details. Jon Burlingame is on hand to comment on Alfred Newman's score (which is limited to the framing sequences – this is a rare Hollywood studio production that plays out without a traditional underscore) and Newman's relationship with studio head Darryl F. Zanuck. A more focused production history can be found in the 30 minute featurette "Memories of Twelve O'Clock High," an efficient documentary featuring Behlmer and other film and military historians. The same crew can be found commenting on the short featurettes "WWII and the American Home Front," "Inspiring a Character: General Frank A. Armstrong," and "The Pilots of the Eight Air Force," which together serve as a brief introduction to the historical background of the film. Also comes with an insert featuring brief production notes and an envelope with four postcard-size B&W stills. For more information about Twelve O'Clock High (Special Edition), visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Twelve O'Clock High, go to TCM Shopping. by Sean Axmaker

Kenneth Tobey (1917-2003)


Kenneth Tobey, the sandy-haired, tough-looking American character actor who appeared in over 100 films, but is best remembered as Captain Patrick Hendry in the Sci-Fi classic, The Thing From Another World (1951), died on December 22nd of natural causes at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, California. He was 86.

Born in Oakland, California on March 23, 1917, Tobey originally intended to be a lawyer before a stint with the University of California Little Theater changed his mind. From there, he went straight to New York and spent nearly two years studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where his classmates included Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach and Tony Randall. Throughout the '40s, Tobey acted on Broadway and in stock before relocating to Hollywood. Once there, Tobey soon found himself playing a tough soldier in films like I Was a Male War Bride and Twelve O' Clock High (both 1949); or a tough police officer in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and Three Secrets (both 1950). Such roles were hardly surprising, given Tobey's craggy features, unsmiling countenance and rough voice.

Needless to say, no-nonsense, authority figures would be Tobey's calling for the remainder of his career; yet given the right role, he had the talent to make it memorable: the smart, likeable Captain Hendrey in The Thing From Another World (1951); the gallant Colonel Jack Evans in the "prehistoric dinosaur attacks an urban center" genre chiller The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, a must-see film for fans of special effects wizard, Ray Harryhausen; and as Bat Masterson, holding his own against Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).

Television would also offer Tobey much work: he had his own action series as chopper pilot Chuck Martin in Whirlybirds (1957-59); and had a recurring role as Assistant District Attorney Alvin in Perry Mason (1957-66). He would also be kept busy with guest appearances in countless westerns (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Virginian) and cop shows (The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, Ironside) for the next two decades. Most amusingly, the tail end of Tobey's career saw some self-deprecating cameo spots in such contemporary shockers as The Howling (1981); Strange Invaders (1983) and his role reprisal of Captain Hendry in The Attack of the B-Movie Monsters (2002). Tobey is survived by a daughter, two stepchildren, and two grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Kenneth Tobey (1917-2003)

Kenneth Tobey, the sandy-haired, tough-looking American character actor who appeared in over 100 films, but is best remembered as Captain Patrick Hendry in the Sci-Fi classic, The Thing From Another World (1951), died on December 22nd of natural causes at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, California. He was 86. Born in Oakland, California on March 23, 1917, Tobey originally intended to be a lawyer before a stint with the University of California Little Theater changed his mind. From there, he went straight to New York and spent nearly two years studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where his classmates included Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach and Tony Randall. Throughout the '40s, Tobey acted on Broadway and in stock before relocating to Hollywood. Once there, Tobey soon found himself playing a tough soldier in films like I Was a Male War Bride and Twelve O' Clock High (both 1949); or a tough police officer in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and Three Secrets (both 1950). Such roles were hardly surprising, given Tobey's craggy features, unsmiling countenance and rough voice. Needless to say, no-nonsense, authority figures would be Tobey's calling for the remainder of his career; yet given the right role, he had the talent to make it memorable: the smart, likeable Captain Hendrey in The Thing From Another World (1951); the gallant Colonel Jack Evans in the "prehistoric dinosaur attacks an urban center" genre chiller The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, a must-see film for fans of special effects wizard, Ray Harryhausen; and as Bat Masterson, holding his own against Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957). Television would also offer Tobey much work: he had his own action series as chopper pilot Chuck Martin in Whirlybirds (1957-59); and had a recurring role as Assistant District Attorney Alvin in Perry Mason (1957-66). He would also be kept busy with guest appearances in countless westerns (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Virginian) and cop shows (The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, Ironside) for the next two decades. Most amusingly, the tail end of Tobey's career saw some self-deprecating cameo spots in such contemporary shockers as The Howling (1981); Strange Invaders (1983) and his role reprisal of Captain Hendry in The Attack of the B-Movie Monsters (2002). Tobey is survived by a daughter, two stepchildren, and two grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Well, I can tell you right now what the problem is. I saw it in your faces last night. I can see it there now. You've been looking at a lot of air lately, and you feel you need a rest. In short, you're feeling sorry for yourselves. 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.
- General Frank Savage
That is not why I am drunk tonight. I got drunk because I am confused. I was thinking, which is a thing a man should not do, and all at once I couldn't remember what any of them looked like. I, I couldn't see their faces, Bishop, Cobb, Wilson, Zimmy, all of them. All of you. They all looked alike, just one face. And it was very young. It confused me. I think I shall stay drunk until I'm not confused anymore.
- Major Harvey Stovall
He's gonna bust wide open. And he's gonna do it to himself, too. Why? Because he's a first rate guy... "over-identification with his men", I think that's what they call it.
- General Frank Savage
Rights, Gately? You've got a right to explain to General Pritchard cowardice, desertion of your post, a yellow streak a mile wide! And maybe he can explain it to your father so that they'll both be proud of you! You can tell him right now.
- General Frank Savage

Trivia

This film is used by the U.S. Navy as an example of leadership styles in its Leadership and Management Training School. The Air Force's College for Enlisted Professional Military Education also uses this film as a education aid in its Noncommissioned Officer Academies.

'Wayne, John' turned down the leading role that was later played by Gregory Peck.

The B-17 bomber crash landing at the airstrip near the beginning of the movie was no special effect. Stunt pilot Paul Mantz was paid $4,500 to crash-land the bomber. Mantz of course walked away from the wreck. Until the 1970's, that was the largest amount ever paid to a stuntman for a single stunt.

This film is frequently cited by surviving bomber crewmembers as the only accurate depiction from Hollywood of their life during the war.

Notes

The film's opening credits include the following written dedication: "This Motion Picture is humbly dedicated to those Americans both living and dead, whose gallant effort made possible daylight precision bombing. They were the only Americans fighting in Europe in the Fall of 1942. They stood alone, against the enemy and against the doubts from home and abroad. This is their story." Another written prologue followed: "The air battle scenes in this Motion Picture were photographed in actual combat by members of the United States Air Force and the German Luftwaffe." Twelve O'Clock High was one of the first motion pictures to utilize film footage taken by the German Luftwaffe of American planes in distress. The film's credits list "Doc" Kaiser as "Captain," but he is addressed as "Major" throughout the film.
       Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett, authors of both the novel and screenplay of Twelve O'Clock High, based their work on their own experiences in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Lay also wrote the novel I Wanted Wings (published in 1937) and co-wrote the screenplay for the 1941 Paramount film of the same name. In early 1942, Lay headed the Eighth Air Force film unit, then transferred into the 100th Bombardment Group, where he flew nine bombing missions. In 1943, while commander of the 487th Bomb Group, Lay's plane was shot down over occupied France and he was rescued by the French Underground. Bartlett was part of the Eighth Air Force Operations Intelligence Section, which brought him into constant contact with front line group commanders, including General Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., commander of the 306th Bombardment Group at Thurleigh field, on whom the character "Frank Savage" is largely based and to whom the novel is dedicated. The novel's title refers to the practice of signaling positions of an aircraft by clock locations. On the otherwise resilient B-17 Flying Fortress, twelve o'clock was the most vulnerable position of the aircraft's nose, as German fighters could attack from above without fear of significant return fire. The real Lord Haw-Haw (so dubbed by the British public) was Irish-born radio personality and pro-fascist William Joyce, who broadcast in English from Germany for Josef Goebbel's Nazi Propaganda ministry. After the war, he was convicted of treason and hanged.
       After the war, Bartlett became a contract screenwriter at Twentieth Century-Fox, where he offered the unpublished novel to producer Louis D. Lighton. According to files in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, the studio paid "$100,000 outright for the book plus up to $100,000 more in escalator and book club clauses." Modern sources allege that producer Darryl F. Zanuck hesitated about purchasing the novel, until he was sure that the publishers, Harper & Row, had cleared the novel of possible plagiarism suits filed by M-G-M in connection with its film Command Decision. Other modern sources note that Zanuck was convinced to pay the high price of the novel when director William Wyler (who photographed and directed the Paramount released documentary The Memphis Belle [] about the Eighth Air Force's first B-17 to complete 25 missions) expressed interest in purchasing the property for Paramount. Hollywood Reporter news items record that Twentieth Century-Fox purchased Twelve O'Clock High in October 1947, after confirming that support from the U. S. Air Force was probable.
       According to modern sources, Zanuck intentionally held up production of the film due to concern over the low public interest in war films. Other modern sources indicate that script problems created the long delay between the time of the novel's purchase and the start of production. A Hollywood Reporter news item notes that in September 1948, Lighton assigned William A. Wellman to direct the film, but the extent of his participation in the production cannot be confirmed. Studio files verify that Lighton contributed to the script as late as December 1948 and a Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that he was removed from production responsibilities in early April 1949 in order to begin work on The Black Rose. Lighton received no onscreen credit, although in a modern interview Bartlett indicated that Lighton was responsible for the bulk of the film's production.
       Zanuck took over as producer and selected Henry King as director in January 1949. Studio files reveal that although the Air Force began locating B-17s for use in the film soon after the studio purchased the novel, they withheld full cooperation from Twentieth Century-Fox until receiving a script. After reviewing a first draft, the only official changes requested by the Air Force were that the incidences of drunkenness be reduced and that Savage's breakdown be portrayed as "nervousness, short temper or just plain fatigue," rather than a "full mental collapse."
       A Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that the production was originally intended to be shot in Technicolor. Studio files record that location manager William Eckhardt chose Eglin Air Force Base outside Pensacola, FL for exterior base scenes. Because war time runways were painted black to be less visible from the air and Eglin's runways were white, takeoffs and landings were shot at Ozark Field, an inactive training base in Alabama. The frame story sequence was shot first, then the surrounding high grass at the airfield was mowed for the flying sequences. Modern sources indicate that Clark Gable expressed great interest in the role of Frank Savage, despite his scheduled participation in M-G-M's Command Decision. Studio files and production publicity note that well-known stunt pilot Paul Mantz performed the B-17 crashlanding that opens the flashback section of the film. Studio legal files note that Kurt Kreuger was originally scheduled to play "Lt. Zimmerman." The CBCS lists Alma Lawton as "TWA hostess" and Clarke Gordon as "TWA clerk," but there is no scene with TWA personnel in the released film.
       Dean Jagger won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as "Harvey Stovall." Twelve O'Clock High also won an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording and received two additional nominations, for Best Actor (Gregory Peck) and Best Picture. The New York Film Critics voted Peck best actor of the year of 1950. Peck recreated his role as General Savage on a Screen Guild Players radio broadcast on September 7, 1950. Twelve O'Clock High was made into a television series, broadcast on the ABC network from 1964 until 1967. Robert Lansing starred as "General Frank Savage" in the first season, then his character was killed off at the start of the second season.
       Studio files reveal that Twelve O'Clock High has been utilized by numerous business firms (including Coca-Cola and Intel) and universities throughout the U.S. and Europe to assist in management training courses. Modern sources list Roy Stark as the film's makeup man.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States February 1950

Released in United States on Video May 25, 1989

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1949

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1949

Released in United States February 1950

Released in United States on Video May 25, 1989

Selected in 1998 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.