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Twelve O'Clock High

From Academic Kids

Twelve O'Clock High is a 1949 film about the U. S. Army Air Force crews who flew daylight bombing missions against Germany and occupied France during World War II. It stars Gregory Peck as Brigadier General Frank Savage, Gary Merrill as Colonel Keith Davenport, Millard Mitchell as General Ben Pritchard, and Dean Jagger as Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Harvey Stovall. After a brief prologue set in the present, the bulk of the story takes place in late 1942 and early 1943. General Savage is assigned to take over temporary command of the 918th Bomb Group, which has suffered heavy losses and is having serious morale problems. Driving the men relentlessly, he restores their fighting spirit and transforms them into an effective combat unit, but ultimately succumbs to the psychological strain of command and must himself be relieved.

The movie was adapted by Sy Bartlett, Henry King (uncredited) and Beirne Lay Jr. from the 1948 novel by Bartlett and Lay. It was directed by King. Paul Mantz, Hollywood's leading stunt pilot, was paid a then-unprecedented sum to crash-land a B-17 bomber for one early scene. The movie won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Dean Jagger) and Best Sound, Recording. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gregory Peck) and Best Picture.

Twelve O'Clock High is widely regarded as the best dramatic film ever made about U. S. bomber crews in World War II. Made with the full cooperation of the (by then) United States Air Force, it made extensive use of actual combat footage. Screenwriters Bartlett and Lay drew on their own wartime experiences with Army Air Force bomber units; Savage is modeled on Colonel Frank Armstrong, Pritchard on General Ira Eaker, and the (fictional) 918th Bomb Group on the (real) 306th Bomb Group. The film's most significant deviation from reality comes in its climax: Armstrong, the real-world version of Savage, did not break down and have to be relieved. Veterans of the bomber offensive frequently cite Twelve O'Clock High as the only Hollywood film that accurately captured their combat experiences. Along with the 1948 film Command Decision, it marked a turn away from the optimistic, morale-boosting style of wartime films and toward a gritty realism that dealt directly with the human costs of war.

This film is widely used in both the military and civilian worlds to teach the principles of leadership. It has also been been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Twelve O'Clock High later became a television series of the same name that premiered on the ABC network in 1964 and ran for three seasons. Robert Lansing (actor) played General Savage. Much of the combat footage from the movie was used in the television series. The B-17 bomber shown in one such sequence was that of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Webb, who earned one of his eight Distinguished Flying Cross awards in the action depicted.

Frank Tallman, Mantz' partner in Tallmantz Aviation, wrote in his autobiography that it was he, not Mantz, who had flown the crash stunt. He said that, while many B-17s had been landed by one pilot, as far as he knew this flight was the only time that a B-17 ever took off with only one pilot, and nobody was sure that it could be done.

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