Thursday, June 8, 2017

Twelve O'Clock High

There's a moment early on in Henry King's Twelve O'Clock High that sets its mood. After a day in London, Harvey Stovall (Dean Jagger) heads to what at first appears to be a field in the English countryside. The camera follows him, and the music changes as it's revealed Stovall's at the now-derelict airfield where he served during World War II.

What follows in Twelve O'Clock High is how the soldiers of the 918th Bomb Group are treated by their commander. Upon succeeding Col. Keith Davenport (Gary Merrill), the aptly named Brig. Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) starts doling out strict rules to toughen them out. But how long until Savage starts to connect with them?

Early on in Twelve O'Clock High, Davenport makes remarks about the soldiers' frames of mind following their missions. The way he describes their ailments sounds a lot like post-traumatic stress disorder (then known as combat fatigue) so is it possible that this was the first fictional depiction of the condition? (Then again, The Best Years of Our Lives showed that three years prior.)

This being a film starring Peck, naturally he's the main draw acting-wise. Merrill, a year away from doing All About Eve, also stands out. But Jagger -- who won an Oscar for his work here -- especially holds his own.

Twelve O'Clock High is a now-underseen work from those involved, and it honestly shouldn't be. Being made after World War II, it's understandable as to why it isn't as known (there were many similar themed works in the years since V-J Day). But the work from its actors and King proves its own worth from other features. It's fascinating to watch.

My Rating: ****1/2

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