A Real War Time High
When a bomber unit at Archbury base comes to the attention of General Pritchard (Millard Mitchell) due to their losses General Savage (Gregory Peck) is sent in to sort things out as it becomes apparent that things have become slack and commander, Colonel Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill) has become to close to his men to be objective. Savage soon shakes things up with his tough rules and tough measures for those who threaten to cause disruption for the group. But whilst initially every pilot puts in for transfer they eventually come around to Savage's way as they become an efficient and successful unit which they can see has the support of Savage. But war is war and as time passes Savage becomes closer to the men and the stresses start to take their toll on him when there are losses on missions.
"Twelve O'Clock High" is one of the most engaging and engrossing war movies I have had the pleasure to watch in a long time despite the fact that watching it now some 67 years after its release it tells a story which is partly familiar. That story revolves around the tough Savage not only knocking a group of men in to shape but winning them around when they realise he has their back. But it is more than that because this also has the peeling back of Savage as he goes from being tough towards the men to being involved with them and with that each mission affects him more personally turning him in to the guy he replaced. I won't go in to any more detail than that but trust me this movie manages to draw you in and keep you hanging on every word and every moment of drama.
Part of the reason is that despite "Twelve O'Clock High" being an old war movie so much of what is said still makes a lot of sense starting with Savage saying that the men need to accept they will die and when they accept that they will then be able to do the job they are meant to do. I could go on because the writing is so spot on that every few scenes another line grabs you by how much sense there is to it.
The delivery of the dialogue is just as important and Gregory Peck is on exceptional form as the tough Savage who walks in and starts bang undisciplined heads. But at the same time Peck brings that friendly side which the character tries to keep in check which makes the evolution of Savage believable. Yet for all the good performances in "Twelve O'Clock High" it is Dean Jagger as Major Stovall who really grabs your attention as he brings the sage wisdom to the character of a man who has seen it all and can see how things will inevitably play out.
What this is all boils down to is that "Twelve O'Clock High" isn't the most action packed of war movies but it is a movie with great writing, well developed characters and equally good performances which make it all come to life whilst also featuring direction which is stylish but non intrusive so that the whole movie works as a collective.