GREAT MOVIE DIALOGUE – Twelve O’clock High (1949)

GREAT MOVIE DIALOGUE – Twelve O’clock High (1949)


Twelve O'Clock High (Dec. 21, 1949) | OCD Viewer


It is the early days of World War Two and the USAAF is conducting daylight bombing raids over Nazi Germany and suffering heavy casualties. The 918th has been labelled the ‘hard luck’ Group, its morale at rock bottom and General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) has been ordered to take command of it and solve its morale problem. He replaces a burnt out Group Commander (Colonel Davenport), a good man but one who cracked under the strain of command.

Directed by Henry King, Twelve O’clock High has rightly been acclaimed as one of the finest WW2 movies ever made, and has been used by the US Navy as an example of leadership styles in its Leadership and Management Training School.  It has been frequently cited by surviving bomber crew members as the only accurate Hollywood depiction of their life during the war. Originally planned to be shot in colour, the picture was ultimately filmed in black and white to accommodate the use of stock aerial combat footage.

The book on which the film is based features a romantic sub-plot, but this was dropped for the movie to enable the script to focus fully on the psychological effects of war and the theme of leadership. The General Savage role was based on real life General Frank Armstrong. He and Peck became friends after the film was released, as Armstrong clearly appreciated Peck’s portrayal of him. Incidentally, Peck himself was a vocal opponent of the aerial bombing of cities, not only in Germany and Japan during this conflict, but also in later wars with North Korea and Vietnam.

Twelve O'Clock High (1949) Gregory Peck Savage General Of Bomber Command – Wolfmans Cult Film

Gately (Hugh Marlowe) and General Savage

(Lt. Colonel Ben Gately (Hugh Marlowe), the Air Exec under Davenport, is grilled by Savage on his arrival to take over the 918th):

General Savage: ‘I take it you don’t really care about the part you had in breaking one of the best men you’ll ever know. Add to it that as Air Exec you were automatically in command the moment Colonel Davenport left – and you met that responsibility exactly as you met his need; you ran out on it! You left the station to get drunk. Gately, as far as I’m concerned, you’re yellow. A traitor to yourself, to this group, to the uniform you wear. It would be the easiest course for me to transfer you out, to saddle some unsuspecting guy with a deadbeat. Maybe you think that’s what you’re gonna get out of this, a free ride in some combat unit. But I’m not gonna pass the buck. I’m gonna keep you right here. I hate a man like you so much that I’m gonna get your head down in the mud and tramp on it. I’m gonna make you wish you’d never been born.’

Gately: ‘If that’s all, sir…’

Savage: ‘I’m just getting started. You’re gonna stay right here and get a bellyful of flying. You’re gonna make every mission. You’re not Air Exec anymore. You’re just an airplane commander. And I want you to paint this name on the nose of your ship: ‘Leper Colony’. Because in it you’re gonna get every deadbeat in the outfit. Every man with a penchant for head colds. If there’s a bombardier who can’t hit his plate with his fork, you get him. If there’s a navigator who can’t find the men’s room, you get him. Because you rate him.’


(Delivering his opening address to the 918th Bomber Group), General Savage: ‘I’ve been sent here to take over what has come to be known as a ‘hard luck’ group. Well, I don’t believe in hard luck. So we’re going to find out what the trouble is. Maybe part of it is your flying, so we’re going back to fundamentals. But I can tell you now one reason I think you’ve been having hard luck. I saw it in your faces last night. I can see it there now. You’ve been looking at a lot of air lately…and you think you ought to have a rest. In short, you’re sorry for yourselves. I don’t have a lot of patience with this, ‘What are we fighting for?’ stuff. We’re in a war, a shooting war. We’ve got to fight. And some of us have got to die. I’m not trying to tell you not to be afraid. Fear is normal. But stop worrying about it, and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it won’t be so tough. Now if any man here can’t buy that…if he rates himself as something special, with a special kind of hide to be saved…he’d better make up his mind about it right now. Because I don’t want him in this group. I’ll be in my office in five minutes. You can see me there.’


(General Savage addresses a crewman who disobeyed orders):

Savage: ‘So, for the sake of your room-mate you violated group integrity. Every gun on a B-17 is designed to give the group maximum defensive firepower – that’s what I mean by group integrity. When you pull a B-17 out of formation you reduce the defensive power of the group by ten guns. A crippled aeroplane has to be expendable. The one thing that is never expendable is your obligation to this group. This group…this group – that has to be your loyalty; your only reason for being. Gately!’

Gately: ‘Yes, sir?’

Savage: ‘Here’s another one for you!’

Dean Jagger Movies | Ultimate Movie Rankings

Dean Jagger as adjutant Major Stovall and General Savage


(General Savage spots his elderly adjutant, Major Stovall, (Dean Jagger), sneaking back after stowing away on a bombing mission):

Savage: ‘Did you hit anything?’

Stovall: ‘My glasses were frosted over some, but I think I got a piece of one.’

Savage: ‘Ours or theirs?’


(Savage confronts his CO, General Pritchard (Millard Mitchell) after ignoring orders to turn back from a target)

Savage: ‘No, sir. I didn’t hear a thing. It must have been radio malfunction.’

Pritchard: ‘Do you mean you are going to stick to that fairy tale?’

Savage: ‘Yes, sir. There’s one more thing you might as well know, sir. The 918th got through today, and bombed the target when nobody else did. And if Providence ever drops into my lap, another chance like that to give this group the pride it ought to have in itself, I may have radio malfunction again, sir.’

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for featuring this movie, Alan. A very adult war movie. First saw it on TV as a teenager and didn’t think much of it. Have watched all or part of it three or more times in recent years, and it gets better with each viewing. Peck’s performance deepens every time I watch. Really great stuff. Mostly because of the awesome screenplay. And there was no film that Dean Jagger did not improve by his mere presence. A splendid cast, great writing, and an important take on the nature of war.

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