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12 O'Clock High
12 O'Clock High (Soundtrack)

12 O'Clock High Review

Directed By: Henry King.
Starring: Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, Millard Mitchell, Dean Jagger, Robert Arthur, Paul Stewart, John Kellogg.

Synopsis: Told in flashback from the perspective of Major Harvey Stovall (Dean Jagger), the story unfolds as Savage takes over Stovallís Bomb Group in 1942. The company has suffered numerous losses, morale is at an all-time low, and the tired pilots and their crews are immediately antagonized by Savageís obsession with discipline, leaving Savage and Stovall with the onerous task of rebuilding the pride of a fighting force that despises its leader.

There is a reason that 12 O'Clock High is considered one of the finest war films ever is. Simple as that. It deals with complex characters, hellish circumstances and unlike recent films Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers it conveys the destruction and horrors of war through dialogue or simple facial reactions rather than close-up shots of gore, bullets ripping through bodies or limbs flying off. I'm not dismissing either of these films, the point is, that these things can be done without the in your face version as well and sometimes I think filmmakers have forgotten that.

The truth is, since 12 O'Clock High's debut there probably hasn't been a war film that didn't lift some element from this work. By framing the storyline with Major Stovall's reflections in 1949, a device seen in Saving Private Ryan, we are lead into a fantastic sequence of watching a suffering squad of B-17's as the return to base. Several stand out moments in this tells a lot of story at first without dialogue...we know things are bad as trucks hit the runways with men looking to help the landing planes. A B-17 Bomber comes in without it's landing gear, takes out two tents and grinds to a halt in the field...then, as the crew emerge they are shaken, one is throwing up, another is in shock, his leg broken and his brain exposed...still another's arm is left inside. A very powerful scene and not one bright red flare of blood on the screen.

By the way...This B-17 bomber crash landing at the airstrip near the beginning of the movie was not a special effect. Stunt pilot Paul Mantz earned $4,500 to crash-land the bomber. Mantz walked away from the stunt and that would be the largest amount ever paid to a stunt man for a single stunt until the 70's.

Most astounding of all...we are into the movie a full twenty minutes before Gregory Peck appears. That would never happen today...there would be a special little scene of just our 'hero' somehow finding the time in his busy schedule to watch the planes take off or something along those lines. The star can't appear twenty minutes after the movie has started!

But when Peck appears, the movie, already good, gets sooooo much better. Sure some of the dialogue is a little stilted and sometimes it comes off as a little melodramatic but there are other scenes that seem as real as anything else in the last five years of war movies.

Another difference in the war movies of today and this one...they would get a strong supporting actor to play Peck's role...or if it was say, Harrison Ford or Anthony Hopkins, they would have a quiet scene with another character, a confidant where they explain their you understand he is doing what he has to do...sometimes he is a prick, he knows he is a prick...and balances it all as well as he can until the very end.

"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." - Gregory Peck as General Frank Savage.

Battle fatigue and the effects on soldiers was a pretty vague topic back when this was made, hell, even through the Vietnam war...but it gets a surprisingly even handed approach and I would love to sit with a group of people who have never seen this flick before and see how they view it.

For the original aerial sequences, for Gregory Peck's (Oscar nominated) performance and Dean Jagger's Oscar winning performance, for the B-17 stunt at the beginning of the film and for the all the great scenes between the credits this gets a 4.5 stars out of 5. Oh, and for the constant demotion and promotion of Private/Sergeant McIllhenny (Robert Arthur).

Copyright© Written By: Rob Paul

DVD Information:

Special Features:
Interactive Menus
Scene Selection

Video: Standard 1.33:1

ENGLISH: Dolby Digital Stereo [CC]
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital Mono [CC]
FRENCH: Dolby Digital Mono

The DVD Review:

Not a lot to report on this DVD. In terms of special features it is completely lacking...only giving the viewer five trailers loosely connected as Fox war films (The Longest Day, Patton, Tora Tora Tora, The Sand Pebbles, The Thin Red Line).

As for the print itself, at least it is properly presented in the original full frame aspect ratio of 1.37:1 but the images have suffered some in the last fifty two years. At points there are scratches and the shadows seem faded. At others the print is excellent and as for the original war footage, well, it is pretty worse for the wear but it was at the time as well, shot with lesser quality cameras with less than quality be thankful the footage is as exhilirating as it is.

Evil Ash

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