Gregory Peck plays rather too meaningfully named General Savage, assigned to a washed-out bomber squadron in World War II. With the tough love of a viciously cruel father, he whips the airmen into a frenzied state of pride & eager sacrifice.
Twelve O'Clock High (1949) was based on the 1948 novel by Ukranian American Sy Bartlett, who had been a ground member of the Eighth Air Force stationed in England.
He based his novel on people & events actually seen or experienced, & borrowed & combined traits of many real individuals to arrive at the fictional character array.
This has given rise to the veritable trivia hunters' thrill-ride of tracking down info on the real soldiers who contributed traits to the fictional, with further trivia attached to the fictive character names.
The resulting award-winning film is dialogue heavy, but so well written that it never flags merely for lack lack of action. And when aerial war action does finally occur on screen, it's well integrated with authentic footage filmed by American & German war photographers, the film as a whole designed to promote & please the armed forces in wartime.
Dead-opposite of Kubrick's so much more truthful Paths of Glory (1957), which shows the madness of war, Twelve O'Clock High is a blindly patriotic film, in its right-wing manner a similarly fiery fine film.
The General is willing to fly with his boys taking the same risks as do they, which is the film's biggest lie. Such a lie was evidently required to make it all seem pallatable & fair. Indeed it stands as one of the greatest of great lies of pro-war cinema, as likely to see congressmen as generals taking the same risks as the mere boys in the front lines of everything.
Dean Jagger plays Major Stovall who has a drinking problem, has doubts about the war, but no doubts about his need to support his government's mission.
But this isn't a film that invites debate, however, & eventually Stoval comes the "right" conclusions.
General Savage always shows a fierce face, never shows love which for him is weakness, but of course he loves his men dearly & feels the loss of each man, even if he dares not show signs of emotion.
He does eventually lose it, however, collapsing in nervous breakdown, at a critical moment, due to having cared too much, just as had the previous commander, Colonel Davenport (Gary Merrill).
Twelve O'Clock High (1949) is considered a masterpiece of war cinema. It is a spiritually loathsome film which makes a parallel of sending young men into battle & proper fatherly parenting.
Proper parenting must be, then, never showing that you care, then call the children sissies or lepers if they won't jump off a cliff to their deaths without hesitation when commanded to do so. Then whoever surprises the leap of death is demeaned as failures. Eventually the children will be grateful.
Nevertheless, this loathsome movie is packed with great acting. It takes the gung-ho war propaganda slant of "Hollywood Goes To War" & makes a bit of gruesome poetry of it.
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