Twelve O'Clock High (1949)
|Year Of Production||1949|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Henry King|
Twentieth Century Fox
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The old saying "they don't make movies like this anymore" is very apt for a movie like Twelve O'Clock High. Movies of this calibre are rare in any age, and this is one of the best from the late 1940s and 50s. Starring the redoubtable Gregory Peck with the likes of Dean Jagger (who won an Oscar for his supporting role), Hugh Marlowe and Gary Merrill, this is another movie rare in the early annals of Hollywood in that it has no female lead and the focus of the movie is almost entirely on the subject matter without resorting to the need to sensationalise or glorify anything.
All in all this is a serious and very dramatic movie. It's about war, but not about the glorification of war. It's about leadership, but not about the swaggering kind you so often see depicted, and it's about the willingness to sacrifice everything to uphold an ideal. The movie is based around the bombing of Germany in World War II - precision daylight bombing to be exact. To most of us who have only seen war as shown by CNN during the Gulf War, that would probably mean sending a cruise missile 1000 kilometres to hit a target about the size of a 20 cent piece. In 1942, that meant sending 50 - 100 B17s over enemy-held territory, through anti-aircraft fire, marauding fighters and with equipment that you wouldn't attempt to cross the road with, and then dropping hundreds of bombs with almost no idea of where the target really was except for a targeting device that was probably equal to a magnifying glass on a stick, at 9,000 feet, and carpet bombing an area the size of a couple of city blocks and being lucky if more than a couple of bombs hit the target. It's about young men holding themselves together under immense stress and pressure and forcing themselves to perform a task, which in hindsight had little real impact on the war, for which they stood a terrible chance of being killed each time they took off.
Peck stars as General Savage, who takes over command of the 918th Bombing Group stationed at Archbury after the former commanding officer, Colonel Davenport (Gary Merrill) is believed to have reached his limit. The group believes it is jinxed, and after convincing General Pritchard (Millard Mitchell) to give him command of the group, Savage must solve their morale problem and maintain a high rate of combat readiness and effectiveness in order to win the war. After his first run-in with Major Stoval (Dean Jagger), who quickly establishes himself as an highly accomplished officer, Savage must reign in the ill-discipline, and targets Lt Colonel Ben Gately (Hugh Marlowe) for special punishment by assigning every deadbeat in the command to his plane, The Leper Colony. Slowly over time, the group begins to regain its self-esteem, but it is Savage who begins to show the signs of stress as he unravels with the pressures on him to succeed.
Twelve O'Clock High is a movie with a message which delivers that message without resorting to tired clichés - a welcome relief, particularly in a movie of this vintage. Old war movies might not be your kettle of fish, but if you like them classic, then this might well be for you. As a final note, this movie has been screened on cable TV recently, but you'll never see it look so good as in this excellently restored version.
Given the fact that this movie is over fifty years old, you wouldn't expect much and you'd be wrong. They have obviously spent some time in finding the best print, or even making a new interpositive, because this is a gem. Don't get me wrong, it still has problems, but if I was its age, I'd be happy to look this good.
Originally shot in the Full Frame Academy Ratio of 1.37:1, this transfer presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is subsequently not 16x9 enhanced.
Grain is only a real issue during the opening few minutes of the film and during the combat sequences in the last twenty minutes. Apart from that, the transfer looks as if it has been through a grain minimiser. Throughout the movie, the sharpness is variable. The opening sequences look slightly blurry, but on the whole the movie is crystal clear and minor edge enhancement doesn't deter in the slightest. Noise is pleasantly subdued, rarely being seen, and shadow detail is excellent throughout with fine detail in abundance.
This is a black and white movie, but the grey scale is terrific. Deep blacks predominate throughout with fine gradation through to crisp whites.
There is some posterization visible at 7:20 but is fairly minimal. Very slight shimmering can be seen at times, but this is almost totally unobtrusive. Film artefacts are prevalent right throughout the movie, but you'll notice that they tend to be concentrated in the opening and closing minutes and in the actual war footage used. The rest of the movie has faint scratches and marks, but at times you'll be hard-pressed to see them unless you are looking for them. There are thin white lines down the picture at 14:43, 66:12, 116:00, 122:12 and 124:56. Occasionally, they are accompanied by black lines in parallel. There is a noticeable stain at 46:50, possibly a water mark on the right side of the print. Given the age of the movie though, none of these seriously degrade the quality of the transfer too much.
The subtitles used are very easy to read, especially against the black and white background. The font is a little soft at times, but nothing untowards. The biggest problem is that they aren't all that accurate to the actual dialogue, nor to the sound effects. Large sections of dialogue are simply left out in many scenes giving an abbreviated version of the movie at times.
Although listed as an RSDL disc, I could find no layer change or even a slight pause in the movie at any stage.
There is only one audio track available on this disc; English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 192 kilobits per second. Depending on your decoder, you may notice some slight ambience generated from the surrounds, but this is more of a bonus than due to any real surround encoding. The sound is strictly front and centre with good body to it for something this old. One notable problem with the soundtrack is an audible hiss at about 99 minutes that lasts over a minute.
Dialogue and audio sync were immaculate except for some slight ADR work noticed in the cockpit during the combat scenes. The only reason you may notice it, like I did, is that it sounds fake over the noise of the engines, being far too crisp and clear, but this was only momentary.
The music is another sterling effort from the master of his craft, Alfred Newman. If you've never run across this composer in movies before, his body of work is the stuff of legends. There are numerous occasions when the music is totally silent to allow the drama to build, but it is an outstanding score nonetheless.
Apart from some slight incidental ambience that was noted, the surrounds were barely used.
There was no subwoofer activity on this disc.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
At this time, there doesn't appear to be a Region 1 release of this movie, so we have the definitive version for the moment.
Nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 1950, Twelve O'Clock High avoids most of the stereotypes and clichés of other war movies from the period and presents a hard-nosed, incisive look at the stress that men are placed under during war. Although you might not find it depicts war as brutally as something of more recent vintage like Saving Private Ryan does, its incisive look at the stress and human frailty under adverse conditions make it an excellent period piece.
This looks as good visually as I've ever seen it look. It almost looks as if it has been restored in parts with a crispness and clarity that was a pleasure to watch.
Apart from a minor hiss in the audio, this was as clean as a whistle and although monaural in quality it was a faithful rendering of the original audio.
There is a lack of extras, but I guess they didn't think much about the advent of DVD back in 1949.
|DVD||Rotel RDV995, using RGB output|
|Display||Loewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Rotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Rotel RB 985 MkII|
|Speakers||JBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer|