A Movie A Day: Quint on TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (1949)
I believe that, to a certain degree, a man makes his own luck.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Okay, so thanks for bearing with me as I took a moment to… uh… sleep after the holiday shopping guide tried to kill me. I’m a little late with this movie and will be pulling double duty sometime over the weekend to catch back up.
Today’s movie is TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH following lead actor Gregory Peck from the last AMAD, ON THE BEACH.
I first heard of this movie a few months back when I was on a flight. I don’t remember where I was going, but beside me sat a talkative guy, which is odd in and of itself. I’ve been a constant flier since my mid-teen years and back then everybody was talkative, but in the last few years I’ve noticed people keep to themselves a lot more.
This guy didn’t and we got to talking. He used to be a commercial airline pilot and was now in advertising, if I remember correctly, and before that he had a tour with the air force. It was really neat, actually, because he’d tell me what every sound I heard on the flight was, revealed just how automatic everything is and how a pilot really doesn’t do much anymore, etc.
We got to talking about me and what I did for a living and he was very interested, especially when I mentioned this column. He then mentioned this movie, which was the first I’d heard of it. He said that it’s pretty much every pilot’s favorite movie. I looked it up when I got back home and ended up picking it up.
Now we get to it on the column and I see why pilots love this film. It’s not a spectacle film, it’s not crazily dramatic. There’s an emphasis on reality… so much so that the tone almost works against the movie. I know I was itching to see more dogfights than what I got, but once you accept the film for what it is and what it intends to be, you’ll be pulled in.
Peck, in a role that was reportedly turned down by John Wayne, plays a General who has to take over the 918th Bomb Squad, the only American bombing presence in Europe at this stage of WW2, when they begin slacking off.
Their previous commander is one of Peck’s best friends, but the dude empathizes too much with his boys and basically lets them walk all over him. Peck is this man’s opposite, who is, to a fault, strict and cold.
The morale is low, each bombing run heavy with casualties. These kids are essentially guinea pigs as the brass tests out low-flying daylight bombing runs. These kinds of runs are extremely accurate, but very dangerous. The lower they get, the easier they are to hit by anti-aircraft guns and during the day time they can see their targets better… but that goes both ways.
It’s actually kind of a shock when Gregory Peck shows up to take over command and turns into a huge prick because the first time we meet him, he’s all smiles and happiness. He’s a believer in tough love, I guess, but it starts the second he drives up to the base.
The MP waves him in, seeing it’s a military car and Peck gets out and dresses this guy down for not checking his ID and you can just see this poor bastard shrivle in front of the deep-voiced, intimidating Peck.
And he doesn’t stop there. He goes in and demotes a sergeant to private for not wearing his uniform as he types away at paperwork (only to give him his rank back, then take it away and give it back again… it becomes a thread in the movie) and then, to top it all off, gives a lengthy tongue-lashing to Hugh Marlowe’s Lt. Col. Ben Gately, who Peck believes has gone yellow. Instead of “passing the buck” and transferring him out, Peck instead puts him in charge of his own plane of rejects. Peck names this plane The Leper Colony and anybody who is a fuck-up or an underperformer is put under Gately’s command.
But over the course of the movie the men begin to respect him and he them, all building to a final 10 minutes where Peck is literally crippled by emotion, everything he’s kept buried deep and out of sight essentially tripping a fuse in his brain and putting him into a deep shock.
We go up in the air with the pilots only once, about an hour and forty minutes into the movie and that is odd, to say the least. It’s great footage, but since it is cut together from actual air-fight and bombing run footage from both the US Air Force and the German Luftwaffe it’s not the most dynamic dramatically edited material in the world.
The filmmakers were smart to have an announcement at the beginning of the movie announcing this was real footage because that knowledge really does make this run incredibly fascinating.
Would I have loved Howard Hughes-like epic aerial battles? Sure. Would they have made the movie better? That’s a tougher question to answer. I think they would have made the movie easier and more fun to watch, but that would also have taken away what has made this film a classic and kept it alive (it’s still shown to new recruits at the Air Force and is considered by most war pilots to be the most accurate accounting of what it’s actually like to fly during wartime).
Of special interest here is the performance by Dean Jagger, for which he won the Oscar for best supporting actor, a right-hand man to Peck who kind of acts as his Jiminy Cricket. For whatever reason the only person Peck allows in to see his human side is Jagger and in many ways it is Jagger’s influence on Peck that gets him to open up a little bit with his crew.
There’s a great warmth to the black and white photography by Leon Shamroy (THE KING AND I, PLANET OF THE APES) that is hard to explain, but it keeps Peck from really looking like a bad guy. He never comes off as menacing. Also keep an ear out for Alfred Newman’s great score!
Final Thoughts: An extremely solid film that is about as close to being a war hero pilot as any of us are going to get. It’s funny that John Wayne turned this down because this movie reminded me a lot of John Wayne’s FLYING TIGERS. In fact, that’d be a great double feature. Flying Tigers is a bit more fun, definitely more Hollywood (love story included), but there’s a bigger emotional punch to TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Friday, November 28th: GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT (1947)
Saturday, November 29th: PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950)
Sunday, November 30th: THE HOT ROCK (1972)
Monday, December 1st: WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966)
Tuesday, December 2nd: THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973)
Wednesday, December 3rd: CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971)
Thursday, December 4th: THE CINCINNATI KID (1965)
Alright, next up is another Gregory Peck vehicle 1947’s GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT which was directed by Elia Kazan and won the Oscar for Best Picture. See you tomorrow for that one!
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Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Nov. 29, 2008, 6:24 a.m. CST
Nothing to say except that this feature has revealed a lot of films I otherwise wouldn't have heard of.
Nov. 29, 2008, 6:27 a.m. CST
by Anna Valerious
Well, if it was put on DVD, that is... I just know about the guy who's trying to avoid getting beaten up, and the fact Yeardley "Lisa" Smith is in it.
Nov. 29, 2008, 9:02 a.m. CST
I am amazed on the lack of film history that is sometimes shown on this site. True, this site is mostly about comics, and films about a guy dressed up as a bat or some space ship shooting at something, but one would think that fans of sci-fi would have had a more rounded education when it comes to cinema. Its a good thing that these films are being posted here and talked about because its long overdue, some here think that film history began with star wars. In order to make better comics, films, we cant forget the things that were done in the past. One of the challenges of making a film or a comic is problem solving, how to convince and bring in an audience to the world and the story you are telling. Sadly many of the problems being solved in films nowadays is through the power of CGI and not brains.
Nov. 29, 2008, 9:48 a.m. CST
by Billy Oblivion
There was also a TV version back in the 60s (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057793/). It was quite good and faithful to the movie, especially the first two seasons. Robert Lansing starred and was fantastic. I also remember a great guest star turn by Shatner that makes you realize the man was actually capable of some subtlety. As for the movie, it is shown throughout the military as a primer on how various command styles work in high stress situations.
Nov. 29, 2008, 10:48 a.m. CST
Nov. 29, 2008, 10:53 a.m. CST
The purpose of the discussion was, "what makes a good leader?" Twelve O'clock High has examples of good leadership and bad leadership. Excellent movie!
Nov. 29, 2008, 11:03 a.m. CST
our pal from The Thing from Another World Ken Tobey
Nov. 29, 2008, 12:32 p.m. CST
...you get him. I LOVE this movie. Highly quotable. And Peck is absolutely perfect. I remember seeing a scene from this movie on some awards show -- the scene where he's just walking towards the camera with that cigarette -- and I knew I had to see this movie. Bought it and, 10 or so viewings later, it rates as one of my favorite movies. Good pick, Quint. Good pic...
Nov. 29, 2008, 1:34 p.m. CST
It's impossible to see EVERY important film out there on DVD. There's a lot of people that haven't seen TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH. Quint does know about film and writes in a straightforward, down-to earth way. Even if he has seen the film, he still writes with a sense of discovery. I may disagree with him, but so what? The fact that we discuss films that aren't fanboy material here is terrific enough. Since you've seen everything, have you seen THE NAKED KISS?
Nov. 29, 2008, 2 p.m. CST
http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/20081129_Dave_on_Demand__Fox__dropping_cartoons__sacrifices_kids_to_cash.html?adString=ph.news/news_update;!category=news_update;&randomOrd=112908075708 <p>The saddest news of the TV week is Fox's announcement that it is canceling its entire Saturday morning cartoon slate in favor of infomercials.
Nov. 29, 2008, 2:01 p.m. CST
http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/20081129_Dave_on_Demand__Fox__dropping_cartoons__sacrifices_kids_to_cash.html?adString=ph.news/news_update;!category=news_update;&randomOrd=112908075708 <p>For instance, Knight Rider is still on despite the fact that viewers hate it and nobody watches it, purely because NBC has so many product placement deals connected to the series that it practically pays for itself. Profit has completely won out over entertainment.
Nov. 29, 2008, 2:29 p.m. CST
THE NAKED KISS isn't obscure enough. What we need is for someone to have seen LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, and then I need that guy to lend me that film.
Nov. 29, 2008, 3:01 p.m. CST
Awesome movie!! Supposedly all inspired by real events. This might be Peck's best performance. This is a real must for anyone who has ever been in the military.
Nov. 29, 2008, 3:50 p.m. CST
...as an assignment for a college communications course. Group dynamics and decision making, etc. Great film for studying organizational relationships. I was told this is required material for the air force academy, though I cannot confirm that.
Nov. 29, 2008, 3:52 p.m. CST
Hurray! _Cincinnati Kid_ is back in the queue. Man, I love that movie.
Nov. 29, 2008, 4:26 p.m. CST
As others have stated Intel Corp (Pentiums etc) uses this in their Leadership classes. Which is good if you want to take 4 hours off work and see a movie while "working".<p> It was ~10 years ago now, but basically there are 4 leadership modes Peck moves through in the movie.
Nov. 29, 2008, 6:21 p.m. CST
Nov. 29, 2008, 7:44 p.m. CST
Saw it twice while a cadet.
Nov. 29, 2008, 7:49 p.m. CST
Nov. 29, 2008, 8:18 p.m. CST
by Dr Eric Vornoff
seeing as you didn't mention it in the review, I'm guessing you haven't seen King and Peck's other great collaboration The Gunfighter, one of the great westerns IMO. Referenced to brilliant effect in Bob Dylan's epic Brownsville Girl
Nov. 30, 2008, 2:27 a.m. CST
Good post. Look, according to what I've rated on Netflix, I've seen about 1600 movies... And I haven't seen '12 O'Clock High'. But thanks to Quint, I'm gonna check it out. It's funny, I was a little shocked when I learned that Quint hadn't seen so much '80's cinema... 'Once Upon a Time in America', 'Salvador', 'Best Seller'... But I realized that the only thing I like as much as Quint reviewing movies I haven't seen, is seeing what he thinks when he discovers movies that I HAVE seen. I love, love, love this column. It's a real treat for movie buffs, and a credit to this site. If Quint ever needs a break, I hope that AICN finds someone else to write the column. I nominate Beaks or Capone. Both excellent, trustworthy, literate guys. In the meantime, keep it up, Quint! Fuckin' great job!
Nov. 30, 2008, 2:33 a.m. CST
Totally forgot the reason I replied to FilmFanatic in the first place. 'The Naked Kiss'! My favorite Sam Fuller movie. Completely, utterly, totally awesome. Quint, if you haven't seen it, you need to review it. NOW-ISH.
Nov. 30, 2008, 7:14 a.m. CST
You missed my favorite scene. It's at the beginning of the movie, in 1947, when Jagger goes to the field where the airbase had been. He stands in the field and starts to remember the war. Then you hear the sound of the engines as he remembers them, then you see the grass behind him blown flat by the wash (wind) from the props, and finally he looks up into the sky and you see the B-17s coming in to land. It's the most emotionally moving transition I've ever seen in any movie.
Nov. 30, 2008, 7:21 a.m. CST
Another great scene is when Gen. Savage first arrives at the outskirts of the airbase with his driver, a sergeant named Ernie. He offers the driver a cigarette, lights it for him, and calls him by name. Then he throws down his own cigarette, puts on his "prick" persona, says "Let's go, sergeant," and gets in the car. Then they drive into the base. The next scene is the one you mentioned in which Savage rips the sentry a new one.
Nov. 30, 2008, 5:54 p.m. CST
Get off his back about not seeing every damn movie in the world. He's still seen more than 99% of Earth's population. Also, he does this column for love of film, not for money. You want to complain about free content? Go yell at the sky because air doesn't come strawberry scented. Save your complaints for the return counter at Wal-Mart, dude.
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