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Twelve O'Clock High (1949)

20th Century Fox

Cast: Gregory Peck, Dean Jagger, High Marlowe, Gary Merrill.

Rating: G

Run time: 132 mins

Genre: War

Verdict: Brilliant (see rating system)

This classic story of the Second World War battle in the air works as an action picture, a psychological drama and also a powerful anti-war statement.

This isn't just another Hollywood flick full of swaggering heroics. Instead, we see veterans cracking under pressure and young men barely out of their teens risking - and losing their lives. Scripted by Sy Bartlett and Beirne Lay, Jr., who actually served during the campaign, the movie has a powerful sense of realism.

And the astonishing aerial battle sequences are all real, taken from combat footage filmed by American and German crews.

Set in England in 1942-43, the tells the story of one Flying Fortress bomber group, part of the high altitude daylight precision bombing effort against Germany and occupied Europe devised by the Americans. With But with the air thick with German fighter planes there were fearsome casualties.

Gregory Peck plays Brig. Gen Frank Savage, a combat veteran who is recalled from his new post as a mission planner at headquarters to take command of a “hard luck” squadron. Savage sees immediately that his predecessor identified too much with his men, excusing poor performance, worrying about their well-being and putting heavy losses down to "bad luck".

His icy first briefing for the crews is an awesome piece of acting. Facing men upset their popular commander has been replaced, Savage tells it like it is, from "I don't believe in hard luck" to a warning that "we're in a shooting war and some of us have got to die".

It's a towering, Oscar-nominated performance from Peck. But just good is Dean Jagger’s calm understated turn as the air base adjutant who recalls the squadron’s exploits in flashback as he revisits the deserted air base four years after the war ends. Jagger landed the “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar and the film also won for "Best Sound".

The supporting cast is teriffic and this 2007 two-disc special edition features a fine picture transfer plus four documentaries on the making of the movie and other extras.

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