JT Film Review

114 – Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

Twelve O’Clock High REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Henry King

Cast – Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merril, Millard Mitchell, Dean Jagger


I had always thought Twelve O’Clock High was just a TV show. I’d never seen it, but I had always thought of it as Hogan’s Heroes without the punch lines. I was unaware of the movie  until recently, and in one of those weird coincidences I very quickly saw it in one of those discount bins. Discount bin hunting is made for finding movies like this. It is an excellent disc too, cleaned up all nice.

Twelve O’Clock High features Gregory Peck (as General Frank Savage) to great effect as a stoic, by-the-book American Air Force general who feels compelled to take over a bomber unit after he deems its commander, a friend of his, to have become too close to his men. The men in the unit have been treated with kid gloves, and so Savage steps in to whip them into shape.

While Gregory Peck is cast perfectly as Frank Savage,  it is the supporting cast (bringing a strong sense of character to their roles) that really fuse the movie together. Of special note is Dean Jagger as Major Stovall. He has a couple of scenes that bookend the movie wonderfully.

Twelve O’Clock High starts off as a character study, a story about the aviators low spirits, and about how to kick them into shape. It’s the classic underdog story really. A “team” has low morale and skills, and are whipped into shape by a tough “coach”. We enjoy seeing these airmen (who thought they were capable of nothing) triumph over their previous failures.

However, halfway through the movie it switches its focus, and starts examining what Savage’s methodology does to him. His drive, coupled with his single-mindedness, comes near to psychologically destroying him. (While this movie is also described as anti-war, we are shown Savage’s methods doing little harm to his men, so it comes across as a portrayal of what leadership can do a man, rather than combat itself.) The underdog story suddenly becomes about the coach, not the players. This last portion of the movie undermines the whole first part.

Well, not undermines… more like elaborates on. In a  good way. The movie becomes about what war can do to a man, and it is when dwelling on this that the movie earns its stripes. Without such an ending, it would have been just another WWII adventure story. A good one, to be sure, but thankfully Twelve O’Clock High rises above that.


Twelve O’Clock High is a classic war movie, and one looks at the effects war actually has on people, rather than being an adventure story or a traditional biopic. Gregory Peck is at his peak here, and the addition of aerial footage actually shot by RAF and Luftwaffe adds a lot of legitimacy here.

When dealing with old movies we often find many that haven’t “aged well”. This is definitely not one of those. I can confidently recommend this to anyone who likes old movies, or indeed, movies in general.



“Twelve O’Clock High” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia



November 27, 2010 - Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - War, Year - 1940-1949 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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