Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

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I wanted to finish the year in style and a review of the black and white movie Twelve O’Clock High seemed fitting. This is one of the most highly acclaimed war movies and while I wouldn’t exactly give it a five-star rating, like so many critics did, I still think it’s a very important movie and the acting is superb.

Most air combat movies I have seen so far, with very few exceptions, showed the point of view of the British or the Germans. This is one of the rare depicting the American side.

In 1942 the US Air Force conducted daylight bombing raids. They thought that the precision of daylight bombing would speed up things and end the war earlier. However this put the pilots under a lot of additional pressure. 918th Bombardment Group was one that took much higher casualties than others. Their morale was pretty low, their squadron leader on the brink of a breakdown. Their explanation for their losses was “bad luck”.

Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) doesn’t want to hear any of this. He believes that leadership or rather the lack thereof is the main reason. The squadron leader is too attached to his men, identifies with them which clouds his judgement.

When Savage takes over the command he faces open resistance. The men don’t want such a hard and seemingly unfeeling leader and want to be transferred. Savage won’t let go. He works on their morale, assigns new leaders, regroups the men, even has the change their sleeping quarters. While they are hostile in the beginning, the first raids show, what he teaches makes sense as there are fewer casualties. On top of that he flies every mission with them.

Outstanding leadership, unflinching command, show results and soon the morale is high again and the men start to admire and even like Savage. Unfortunately the intensity of his assignment comes at a high cost.

While the beginning of the movie is extremely wordy, the second half is perfect. A lot of original footage heightens the authenticity and Savage’s character is one of the most interesting in any war movie. As said before, I wouldn’t exactly give this 5 stars (I found the beginning too slow) but it’s certainly a very good movie and Gregory Peck’s acting is outstanding.

Don’t let the poster fool you, by the way, Twelve O’Clock High is a black and white movie.

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Pork Chop Hill (1959) or The Best Korean War B-Movie?

Lewis Milestone’s Pork Chop Hill is based on the eponymous book by military historian S. L. A. Marshall and depicts the fierce Battle of Pork Chop Hill. Towards the end of the Korean War the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division and Chinese and Korean Communist forces fought for this strategically unimportant hill.

The year is 1953, while the Panmunjeom cease-fire negotiations continue, a company of American infantry was to recapture Pork Chop Hill from a larger Communist Chinese army force. Successful but highly decimated, they were ready for the large-scale Chinese counter-attack which they knew would overwhelm and kill them in hand-to-hand fighting.

This movie is bothering me quite a lot for many reasons. I can’t say I did not like watching it as that is not true. (Maybe I am secretly an infantry combat war movie buff. At least no questions about whether this is a war movie or not. That seems settled.)  Unfortunately there are a lot of questionable elements in it. I can still hardly believe that the very same man, Lewis Milestone, who did All Quiet on the Western Front did this thing too.

This was my first US movie on the war in Korea. I read articles and list and it seemed as if there are not so many great ones. Gray Freitas terms Pork Chop Hill the best B-Movie. Aha. Others call this one of the better ones…

I hated the end. This was not the battle that finished the war. I hated that we have no clue what it is all about. And I hated that they had to choose an African-American soldier to play the part of the treacherous coward.

I did appreciate the battle scenes. They way it was shown how battle takes its toll. Those soldiers were so tired… It captured nonsensical high command orders very well. I also like the relationship between Gregory Peck and the Japanese-American officer. And I think Gregory Peck is very good in this movie.

I will post another, more general post on the war movies depicting the Korean war. And I will certainly need to review Tae Gu Ki aka Brotherhood.

I must honestly say, after watching Pork Chop Hill and reading a few things about US movies on this war, I am not extremely keen on watching any other ones. Maybe M.A.S.H.

Feel free to share your opinions and ideas on the topic.

The trailer will tell you that the DVD cover is misleading as Pork Chop Hill is a black-and-white movie.

The Guns of Navarone (1961): A Great War Adventure Movie

Some movies age well. Others don´t. The Guns of Navarone,  a splendid UK/US co-production, is one of the first kind. Almost 50 years old but still fresh like on the day it came out. This is thanks to a  lot of things. A gripping story, a great cast (Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle), wonderful cinematography, a nice score. What more do you want from a good war adventure yarn? I hadn’t  seen it before (yes, yes, shame on me) and was really surprised how good it is. And very esthetic. It is one of the most esthetic movies I have ever seen.

The year is 1943. Greece is occupied by Germany.  The Germans who feel they are losing on the Eastern Front try to force Turkey to join them. The Guns of Navarone tells us how a group of men tries to secretly enter a Greek island, meet with the Greek resistance and with their help sneak into a fortress to destroy two powerful German guns that threaten British soldiers who are marooned on another island. The mission is extremely dangerous and no one actually thinks they might accomplish it.

The story, from the beginning to the end, is one gripping sequence after the other. Each one of them could almost stand alone like some sort of short story. First they fight the elements on a boat during a storm. Then they have to climb an impossibly steep rock. Every place they find themselves in is swarming with Germans so they have to hide often.  In one episode one of them gets wounded and they need to decide if they take him along or shoot him. One of them betrays them and they need to decide whether or not to shoot the person. They get captured by the Germans but escape. Many things go wrong and not all of them make it. The best scenes for me are in the fortress. We hear a German song in the background and see this bunker with its typical Nazi esthetics.

It is also a funny movie at times as the German´s really get their asses kicked. In one scene the group is hiding and a German guard hears them. To distract  him they throw something and he runs off like a dog.

There is also some humorous dialogue mostly coming from the stiff-upperlipped British major played by David Niven.

The characters are well drawn, interesting and complex. Major Mallory (Peck) is a mountaineer whose expertise is needed for the mission. Miller (Niven) is an expert in explosives. Stanley Barker plays a trained killer who has problems with his conscience. I was quite surprised to see Irene Papas, the Greek singer, in one of the roles. I didn’t even know she acted. She plays a Greek resistance fighter. Quite a fierce character. Gia Scala´s role Anna is interesting and what happened to her illustrates once more the idea of the absurdity of war.

This movie made me quite nostalgic. You don’t find many movies like this anymore. And no actors like these either.