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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Twelve O'Clock High (1949)



Reviews and Comments

An American bomber unit suffers heavy losses over Germany, and morale is low. Enter Gregory Peck, a general who reassembles the unit. Rereading that sentence, I fear I'm making it sound like an inspirational story of the band of misfits that pull through in the end. It's not that kind of movie at all. These men knew what they were doing. They knew they'd most likely die on the missions they were assigned. The problem was getting the job done as best as possible under the circumstances, and with as much pride and dignity as could be mustered.

The film was based on a real unit, which suffered unthinkable casualties -- upwards of 87% -- in their daylight precision bombing raids in 1942. Additionally, most of the characters were based on real people. Peck's character was based on General Frank Armstrong, one of our greatest military leaders. Leadership is what the movie is really about; it may be the single best and most exhaustive film on the subject. It is studied in Navy training programs and even non-military leadership seminars. And it is embraced by many veterans of the air raids over Germany as the film that tells their stories.

The film's authenticity is not surprising: it was written by Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr, who flew on the kind of bombing raids this film portrays and knew General Armstrong personally. Bartlett, in fact, flew in the lead plane in the first bombing raid and became the first American to drop a bomb on Germany in the war. No doubt this film's compelling portrayal of the psychological effects of war was based on the writers' personal experiences and those of the men they fought beside.

Despite the heavy subject matter, the movie works as an entertainment. It provides audiences with a rewarding time at the movies, while more importantly documenting this important bit of history. It honors the veterans of the war simply by telling the truth about it.