Twelve O'Clock High: Cinema Classics Collection – DVD Review

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Henry King


Gregory Peck………Brig. Gen. Frank Savage
Hugh Marlowe………Lt. Col. Ben R. Gately
Gary Merrill………Col. Keith Davenport
Millard Mitchell………Maj. Gen. Ben Pritchard
Dean Jagger………Maj. Harvey Stovall

The Movie

When one looks back at the collected works of Gregory Peck, one begins to realize that Peck had one of the best bodies of work of any actor of his generation. While seemingly overlooked because he never had the most glamorous of resumes, his body of work is perhaps more impressive because of consistency. Just quality work again and again. He’s always good to great in nearly every role, especially in his peak, but suffers from the same phenomena that Harrison Ford suffered from; others were perhaps more famous or bigger draws during their respective peaks, and some may have had more memorable roles, but not too many were as consistent as Peck over the years. And one of the five times he was nominated for an Academy Award was for his powerhouse portrayal of Frank Savage in the minor war classic Twelve O’Clock High.

Savage is put in charge of the 918th Bombardment Group, stationed in England to do bombing runs on Germany in World War II. After the prior commander is relieved of his duty due a combination of things, Savage shakes things up from the beginning to much chagrin. He closes down the officer’s club, chews out several senior officers, and imposes a much stronger form of discipline than the men are used to. As the war intensifies, Savage has to deal with the psychological aspects of his men and himself. It’s a terrific story with a heart-racking ending as Savage learns about himself, war, and the psychological effects of battle on the psyche of man.

And while this may not be his most memorable performance – To Kill A Mockingbird is the one that Peck is most known for – this is perhaps one of his better performances overall. Peck is eminently likable as an actor, but he shows all the traditional leadership aspects a man charged with his task has to do. There’s a good crispness to everything he says and does, as well as a complete character arc that he pulls off effortlessly. This is the type of role one imagines John Wayne would have taken it, as it seems more up his echelon than Peck’s, but Peck pulls the part off extraordinarily well that it feels like he’s the only guy who could’ve pulled it off.

What enhances the film is that real footage from World War II was inserted into the main action sequences flawlessly. Smoothly edited, it looks as if it was shot by the studio as opposed to borrowed from the U.S Military. It adds to the credibility of the film in a way that most other war films don’t have.

The Audio

Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format, the audio has been revamped a little bit for this release from its prior release onto DVD. The sound is strong, but it needs to be a little louder to be better understood completely.

The Video

Presented in a Full Frame format with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the film has (). In full screen because of the era of film-making was before the advent of larger aspect ratios, Twelve O’Clock High is also in black and white. But the grays and dark colors come through clearly, as it may not be a tremendous picture because of the lack of color but is still relatively good.

The Extras

Memories of Twelve O’Clock High is a retrospective on the film from beginning to end. Featuring several film historians and some surviving members of the production crew, its focus is on how the film was brought together and the difficulties it had in production. Originally starting out as a novel written by two men who experienced the events of the film firsthand, the film was later optioned by Fox before publication and became one of its prestige pictures for the fall. It’s interesting to hear some of the anecdotes about Gregory Peck, who didn’t serve in the war because of a bad back, and how he had to consult many of the extras (who had) to try and figure out the best way to play the general.

WWII and the American Homefront is a short feature about how the war affected the home front. It’s interesting to see how the war affected everyone in terms of recycling, production, et al. Things that happened then would never happen today and this piece is a quick recollection of that by those who experienced it.

Inspiring a Character: General Frank A. Armstrong is a feature that follows the real life General Armstrong that inspired the character. It’s seven minutes worth of interesting notes about the man but doesn’t get into too many details about him.

The Legacy of the Eight Air Force is a feature about the men who flew the bombing raids in which the film is based off of. It’s an interesting look at the type of warfare that was fought in the bombing runs, as well as the conditions in which they fought.

Also included are an Interactive Pressbook, a set of Lobby Cards, a Commentary Track with Historians Rudy Behlmer, Jon Burlingame and Nick Redman as well as a Poster Gallery.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
Twelve O’Clock High: Cinema Classics Collection
(OUT OF 10)