by Brad Nelson
There are movies that are fine to watch for entertainment purposes and then there are movies that are also exquisite examples of film-as-art. Twelve O’Clock High is one such movie.
It’s unlikely Hollywood could create such a film anymore. This movie is bold, nuanced, powerful, passionate, and charismatic. And it does so without an ounce of camera-shake or ADHD. This is another old classic that puts the emphasis on exposing the character of the people instead of trying to substitute millions of dollars of special effects for an actual story. This is the time before Hollywood become completely stupid.
Perhaps I’ll never tire of thumping Hollywood over their head for its candy-ass mediocrity. But there admittedly still are people making good movies. And the old black-and-white era has its share of dogs as well. But Twelve O’Clock High is a near perfect example of why watching old movies is a must for anyone who claims to love movies.
This is Gregory Peck in his prime playing a man in an age where men were still men and the modern metrosexual girly-men persona had not yet been born. There’s a time and place for that, but a steady diet of nothing but that can be boring. And you might even forget that there ever was such a thing as John Wayne.
In Twelve O’Clock High, there’s no general telling Peck not to make sure that “diversity” isn’t the first casualty as the 918th Bomb Group prosecuted the war against Nazi Germany. And a dangerous war it was. The casualty rate among the American daylight bombers was atrocious. In Twelve O’Clock High we’re seeing the early stages of that effort. And no one is sure whether daylight bombing is even feasible.
And even today, there are legitimate questions regarding whether that was the best use of men and materiel. But in this movie, Peck, as the new commander of an air squadron, is tasked to replace a commander who just isn’t getting the job done. And a tough job it is. Peck is nothing short of masterful as he brow-beats his men into doing the impossible. One of the themes of the movie is to find out just what “maximum effort” is and how far men can be pushed.
For those who are tired of squishy namby-pamby “grey area” performances, Peck gives a clean, bold, and virile portrayal of an American general taking charge, kicking ass, and getting some results, and not by pussy-footing or soft-peddling but by demanding hard work, commitment, determination, and excellence.
If you wonder how America was built or wars are won, it’s not by sensitivity training or gender studies. It’s by bold action, sacrifice, bravery, and persevering — all of these things are lacking from today’s modern socialist vibe where everyone’s a victim and being “nice” is the point of everything. Yeah, this is just a movie, and yet Twelve O’Clock High captures something that has gone too often missing in today’s America: bluntness and honesty.
There’s not much more I can say about it without giving away the plot. But this is a smart, nuanced movie. Dean Jagger is terrific as Peck’s aid — and Jagger won the best supporting actor Oscar. Gary Merrill is also good as Col. Keith Davenport, the man Peck replaces. Davenport’s chief flaw is that he cares about his men too much. There is some nice interplay between the hard-driving (almost machine-like) Peck and the more human-scaled Davenport.
For those looking for wholesale “rah rah,” you won’t find it here. But you will not be dissatisfied with what you do find. This is one of the true gems that I’m guessing a great many people have never seen. Very few war films can compete with Otto Preminger’s “In Harm’s Way” in terms of being tight, well-acted, dramatic, and fascinating to watch from start to finish. This is one of them. I give it 3.9 Robin Hood mugs out of 5. This might be Gregory Peck’s second best performance (after To Kill a Mockingbird). • (1572 views)