AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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Twelve O'Clock High
Director: Henry King (Dir)
Release Date:   Jan 1950
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Los Angeles: 21 Dec 1949; New York opening: 26 Jan 1950.
Production Date:   late Apr--early Jul 1949
Duration (in mins):   132-133
Duration (in feet):   11,914
Duration (in reels):   14
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Cast:   Gregory Peck ([Brigadier] General [Frank] Savage)  
    Hugh Marlowe (Lt. Col. Ben Gately)  
    Gary Merrill (Col. [Keith] Davenport)  
    Millard Mitchell (General Pritchard)  
    Dean Jagger (Major [Harvey] Stovall)  
    Robert Arthur (Sgt. McIllhenny)  
    Paul Stewart (Capt. [Major] "Doc" Kaiser)  
    John Kellogg (Major [Joe] Cobb)  
    Bob Patten (Lt. [Jesse] Bishop)  
    Lee MacGregor (Lt. Zimmerman)  
    Sam Edwards (Birdwell)  
    Roger Anderson (Interrogation officer)  
    John Zilly (Sergeant Ernie)  
    William Short (Lt. Pettinghill)  
    Richard Anderson (Lt. McKessen)  
    Lawrence Dobkin (Capt. Twombley)  
    Kenneth Tobey (Sentry)  
    John McKee (Operations officer)  
    Campbell Copelin (Mr. Britton)  
    Don Guadagno (Dwight)  
    Peter Ortiz (Weather observer)  
    Steve Clark (Clerk in antique shop)  
    Patrick Whyte (Clerk)  
    Joyce MacKenzie (Nurse)  
    Don Hicks (Lieutenant "Willie" Wilson)  
    George Edwards (Officer)  
    Greg Gallagher (Officer)  
    Russ Conway (Officer)  
    Mike Mahoney (Corporal)  
    Ray Hyke (Corporal, bartender)  
    Harry Lauter (Radio officer)  
    Leslie Denison (R.A.F. Officer)  
    Robert Fiske (Officer)  
    Guy Way (Barman)  
    Bob Tidwell (Bishop's Co-pilot)  
    Robert Fisher (Savage's Co-pilot)  
    Stanley Fraser (Cab driver)  
    J. Robert Blunt (Officer)  
    Don Giovanni (Cobb's Co-pilot)  
    Nelson Scott (Gately's Co-pilot)  
    Paul Picerni (Bombadier)  
    John Shulick (Navigator)  
    William R. Klein (Radio operator)  

Summary: In 1949 London, American tourist Harvey Stovall is drawn to a battered Toby jug in the window of an antique shop. After purchasing the mug, Harvey travels to the small country village of Archbury and bicycles out to an overgrown, abandoned airfield where he recalls events that began seven years earlier: In 1942, members of the U.S. Eighth Army Air Force 918th Bombardment Group return to their base in Archbury after a bombing strike. Following the crash landing of a crippled B-17 Flying Fortress, group commander Colonel Keith Davenport, adjutant Major Harvey Stovall and group surgeon Major "Doc" Kaiser meet the surviving crew members at interrogation. Distraught over the harrowing mission, co-pilot Lt. Jesse Bishop bolts, leaving Lt. "Willie" Wilson to detail the attack, after which Keith recommends Jesse for the Congressional Medal of Honor. At the base center, after Air Executive Lt. Colonel Ben Gately, Harvey and Doc listen to British turncoat and radio broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw declare the Eighth Air Force's daylight bombing strategy a failure, Ben informs Keith that the group has been placed on maximum effort strike alert for the next day, despite their loss of five planes. Doc warns Keith that there are signs of group burnout and wonders if anyone knows the parameters of an individual "maximum effort." Keith is appalled by the next day's orders, which sets the bombing altitude at 9,000 feet, and vists command headquarters at Pine Tree to consult with his close friend, Brigadier General Frank Savage. Frank admits to issuing the bombing orders personally, in hopes of increasing the bombers' level of concentration and accuracy. When Frank asks Keith about the 918th's continued misfortunes, Keith reveals that the men are anxious about the potential of daylight bombing and that he agrees with their misgivings. After Keith returns to the base, command leader General Pritchard contacts Frank about the day's losses and Frank relates his belief that the 918th's problem lies with Keith's over-identification with his men. Alarmed, Pritchard has Frank accompany him to Archbury, where Keith goes over the causes for the mission's failure. When the group's lead navigator, Lt. Zimmerman, admits his error caused a critical delay in reaching the target for a coordinated strike, Keith claims full responsibility. After dismissing Zimmerman, Pritchard presses Keith to instigate necessary changes, but when Keith refuses to replace Zimmerman, Pritchard relieves him of command. On the return to Pine Tree, Pritchard tells Frank how crucial it is to justify daylight bombing, then asks Frank to take over the 918th. The following day, Frank returns to Archbury as the new commander and finds the base in disarray over Keith's reassignment and Zimmerman's subsequent suicide. Discovering Harvey moderately drunk and Ben AWOL, Frank orders Ben to be brought in under arrest and has Harvey provide all the base personnel files for a complete restructuring of the group. When the MPs bring in Ben, Frank berates him for shirking his responsibilities, and accuses him of cowardice, then demotes him to flight commander and orders him to name his plane "The Leper Colony," where all the group "deadbeats" will be assigned. During the next morning's briefing, Frank lectures the group about their need to stop pitying themselves and consider themselves already dead. Later, Frank is gratified when Squadron Commander Major Joe Cobb accepts his request to take over as the new Air Executive, but disagrees with Doc, who advises him to ease up on the men. Later, Frank is let down, however, when Jesse, representing all the pilots, informs him they want transfers. When Frank wonders how he might gain time to win the group's loyalty, Harvey, who is warming to his new commander, suggests the transfer requests might be intentionally delayed. Over the next few days, Frank takes the group through grueling flight practices until Harvey informs him that new field orders have come down for a mission. The men find about about new mission orders by having a Toby jug on the mantel in the officer's club turned face outward. The next two missions prove fairly successful, but Frank continues to drive the men hard and ignores queries about the transfers. Keith, now on Pritchard's staff, visits Archbury to warn Frank that rumors about the delayed transfers have prompted an investigation of the 918th by the Inspector General. During the next mission, bad weather forces the entire command's recall and only the 918th fails to return, bringing an anxious Pritchard to Archbury. When the group returns from a successful bombing raid without losses, Frank insists he had radio failure and never heard the recall order. Pritchard angrily chastizes him, but Frank demands the group receive a commendation for their persistence and courage. Afterward, Frank privately questions Jesse about the group's response to the commendation, but the Medal of Honor winner admits he remains unsure about the value of daylight bombing. Despite Frank's earnest appeal, Jesse insists he wants to leave the Air Force. The next day, while the Inspector General examines the pilots, Frank begins packing his belongings, convinced that he will be removed from command. Joe bursts in with the news that Jesse halted the inspection by withdrawing his transfer request, causing the other pilots to follow suit. Frank is momentarily overcome, but covers up with a bluster of stern orders. The next mission takes the 918th into Germany for the first time and upon their return, Frank discovers his driver, Sgt. McIllhenny, had stowed aboard his plane, and Joe reveals Harvey, Doc and even the reverend, Capt. Twombley, had also stowed aboard various planes in order to participate in the first German raid. Although secretly pleased by the show of support, Frank nevertheless berates Harvey. A few missions later, Joe leads a raid in which Jesse's plane is lost, but Frank masks his distress at the news. When Doc tells Frank that Ben has been hospitalized after flying three missions with a painful cracked vertebrae, Frank visits Ben in the hospital. Although Ben says little to Frank, he is deeply moved by the general's sincere expression of respect and concern. Soon after, the combined chiefs of staff devise a major strike plan on German ball-bearing factories that, if successful, would validate daylight bombing. On the first of the three crucial raids, Frank witnesses Joe's plane receive a direct hit, but responds nonchalantly back at the base. The next morning while preparing to lead the next raid, however, Frank is abruptly unable to pull himself into the cockpit and grows disoriented and shaky. Ben assists him from the plane before taking command of the mission. As the bombers taxi down the runway, Frank gets hysterical, insisting the mission be aborted as Harvey and Keith struggle to subdue him. Back at the base, Frank falls into a comatose state of shock for the duration of the mission and only revives when the 918th successfully returns from their raid. Harvey's reminiscences come to an end and he gives a final glance around Archbury's ghostly remains before bicycling away. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Henry King (Dir)
  F. E. Johnston (Asst dir)
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck (Pres)
  Darryl F. Zanuck (Prod)
Writer: Sy Bartlett (Scr)
  Beirne Lay Jr. (Scr)
Photography: Leon Shamroy (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler (Art dir)
  Maurice Ransford (Art dir)
Film Editor: Barbara McLean (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
  Bruce MacDonald (Set dec)
Costumes: Charles Le Maire (Cost)
Music: Alfred Newman (Mus)
  Edward Powell (Orch)
Sound: W. D. Flick (Sd)
  Roger Heman (Sd)
  Thomas T. Moulton (Sd)
Special Effects: Fred Sersen (Spec photog eff)
Make Up: Ben Nye (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: John H. de Russy U.S.A.F. Group Operation Officer, 305th Bomb Group, Chelveston, England, 1942 (Tech adv)
  Capt. John W. Adams (Tech adv)
  R. L. Hough (Prod mgr)
  William Eckhardt (Location mgr)
  Paul Mantz (Stunt pilot)
  Leo McCreary (Key grip)
Country: United States

Songs: "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else But Me)," music and lyrics by Lew Brown, Charlie Tobias and Sam H. Stept; "Bless 'Em All," music and lyrics by Jimmy Hughes, Frank Lake and Al Stillman; "The Whiffenpoof Song," music and lyrics by Meade Minnigerode, George S. Pomeroy and Tod B. Galloway; "Home on the Range," music Dr. Brewster M. Higley, lyrics by Daniel E. Kelly; "Deep in the Heart of Texas," music by Don Swander, lyrics by June Hershey.
Composer: Charlie Tobias
  Lew Brown
  Tod B. Galloway
  June Hershey
  Dr. Brewster M. Higley
  Jimmy Hughes
  Daniel E. Kelly
  Frank Lake
  Meade Minnigerode
  George S. Pomeroy
  Sam H. Stept
  Al Stillman
  Don Swander
Source Text: Based on the novel Twelve O'Clock High by Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett (New York, 1948).
Authors: Beirne Lay Jr.
  Sy Bartlett

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 25/12/1949 dd/mm/yyyy LP2922

PCA NO: 13818
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Aviation
  World War II
Subjects (Major): Air pilots, Military
  B-17 bombers
  Bombing, Aerial
  United States. Army Air Corps
  World War II
Subjects (Minor): Aerial combat
  Death and dying
  Germany. Air Force
  Nervous breakdown
  War injuries

Note: The film's opening credits include the following written dedication: "This Motion Picture is humbly dedicated to those Americans both living and dead, whose gallant effort made possible daylight precision bombing. They were the only Americans fighting in Europe in the Fall of 1942. They stood alone, against the enemy and against the doubts from home and abroad. This is their story." Another written prologue followed: "The air battle scenes in this Motion Picture were photographed in actual combat by members of the United States Air Force and the German Luftwaffe." Twelve O'Clock High was one of the first motion pictures to utilize film footage taken by the German Luftwaffe of American planes in distress. The film's credits list "Doc" Kaiser as "Captain," but he is addressed as "Major" throughout the film.
       Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett, authors of both the novel and screenplay of Twelve O'Clock High , based their work on their own experiences in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Lay also wrote the novel I Wanted Wings (published in 1937) and co-wrote the screenplay for the 1941 Paramount film of the same name (see above). In early 1942, Lay headed the Eighth Air Force film unit, then transferred into the 100th Bombardment Group, where he flew nine bombing missions. In 1943, while commander of the 487th Bomb Group, Lay's plane was shot down over occupied France and he was rescued by the French Underground. Bartlett was part of the Eighth Air Force Operations Intelligence Section, which brought him into constant contact with front line group commanders, including General Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., commander of the 306th Bombardment Group at Thurleigh field, on whom the character "Frank Savage" is largely based and to whom the novel is dedicated. The novel's title refers to the practice of signaling positions of an aircraft by clock locations. On the otherwise resilient B-17 Flying Fortress, twelve o'clock was the most vulnerable position of the aircraft's nose, as German fighters could attack from above without fear of significant return fire. The real Lord Haw-Haw (so dubbed by the British public) was Irish-born radio personality and pro-fascist William Joyce, who broadcast in English from Germany for Josef Goebbel's Nazi Propaganda ministry. After the war, he was convicted of treason and hanged.
       After the war, Bartlett became a contract screenwriter at Twentieth Century-Fox, where he offered the unpublished novel to producer Louis D. Lighton. According to files in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, the studio paid "$100,000 outright for the book plus up to $100,000 more in escalator and book club clauses." Modern sources allege that producer Darryl F. Zanuck hesitated about purchasing the novel, until he was sure that the publishers, Harper & Row, had cleared the novel of possible plagiarism suits filed by M-G-M in connection with its film Command Decision (see above). Other modern sources note that Zanuck was convinced to pay the high price of the novel when director William Wyler (who photographed and directed the Paramount released documentary The Memphis Belle [see above] about the Eighth Air Force's first B-17 to complete 25 missions) expressed interest in purchasing the property for Paramount. HR news items record that Twentieth Century-Fox purchased Twelve O'Clock High in Oct 1947, after confirming that support from the U. S. Air Force was probable.
       According to modern sources, Zanuck intentionally held up production of the film due to concern over the low public interest in war films. Other modern sources indicate that script problems created the long delay between the time of the novel's purchase and the start of production. A HR news item notes that in Sep 1948, Lighton assigned William A. Wellman to direct the film, but the extent of his participation in the production cannot be confirmed. Studio files verify that Lighton contributed to the script as late as Dec 1948 and a HR news item indicates that he was removed from production responsibilities in early Apr 1949 in order to begin work on The Black Rose (see above). Lighton received no onscreen credit, although in a modern interview Bartlett indicated that Lighton was responsible for the bulk of the film's production.
       Zanuck took over as producer and selected Henry King as director in Jan 1949. Studio files reveal that although the Air Force began locating B-17s for use in the film soon after the studio purchased the novel, they withheld full cooperation from Twentieth Century-Fox until receiving a script. After reviewing a first draft, the only official changes requested by the Air Force were that the incidences of drunkenness be reduced and that Savage's breakdown be portrayed as "nervousness, short temper or just plain fatigue," rather than a "full mental collapse."
       A HR news item indicates that the production was originally intended to be shot in Technicolor. Studio files record that location manager William Eckhardt chose Eglin Air Force Base outside Pensacola, FL for exterior base scenes. Because war time runways were painted black to be less visible from the air and Eglin's runways were white, takeoffs and landings were shot at Ozark Field, an inactive training base in Alabama. The frame story sequence was shot first, then the surrounding high grass at the airfield was mowed for the flying sequences. Modern sources indicate that Clark Gable expressed great interest in the role of Frank Savage, despite his scheduled participation in M-G-M's Command Decision . Studio files and production publicity note that well-known stunt pilot Paul Mantz performed the B-17 crashlanding that opens the flashback section of the film. Studio legal files note that Kurt Kreuger was originally scheduled to play "Lt. Zimmerman." The CBCS lists Alma Lawton as "TWA hostess" and Clarke Gordon as "TWA clerk," but there is no scene with TWA personnel in the released film.
       Dean Jagger won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as "Harvey Stovall." Twelve O'Clock High also won an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording and received two additional nominations, for Best Actor (Gregory Peck) and Best Picture. The New York Film Critics voted Peck best actor of the year of 1950. Peck recreated his role as General Savage on a Screen Guild Players radio broadcast on 7 Sep 1950. Twelve O'Clock High was made into a television series, broadcast on the ABC network from 1964 until 1967. Robert Lansing starred as "General Frank Savage" in the first season, then his character was killed off at the start of the second season.
       Studio files reveal that Twelve O'Clock High has been utilized by numerous business firms (including Coca-Cola and Intel) and universities throughout the U.S. and Europe to assist in management training courses. Modern sources list Roy Stark as the film's makeup man. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   24 Dec 1949.   
Daily Variety   21 Dec 49   p. 3, 8
Film Daily   21 Dec 49   p. 7.
Harrison's Reports   24 Dec 49   p. 207.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Oct 47   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Sep 48   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Mar 49   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Apr 49   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Apr 49   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Apr 49   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Apr 49   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Apr 49   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Apr 49   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jul 49   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Nov 49   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Dec 49   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   24 Dec 49   p. 129.
New York Times   28 Jan 50   p. 10.
Variety   21 Dec 49   p. 8.

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