Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

gregory peck 12 oclock highI guess “11:45 Medium” didn’t have the same ring to it.


This film opens with a dedication that pretty much sums it all up:

“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 doubts from home and abroad. This is their story.”

Twelve O’Clock High is just a classy movie, starring Mr. Classy himself, Gregory Peck. You’ll remember him as the man who fought racial prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird, saved Jews in The Scarlet and the Black, unleashed missionary work in China in The Keys of the Kingdom, and left me curled up in the bathtub sobbing quietly to myself after Roman Holiday.

Supporting the ol’ Peck-toral is a solid cast of actors, including Millard Mitchell (R.F. Simpson in Singin’ in the Rain), Hugh Marlowe (Col. Darly in Meet Me in St. Louis), Gary Merrill (uncredited “backstage MP on the right” in This is the Army …he had larger roles but those weren’t as fun for me to mention) and of course, Dean “Got the Moves Like” Jagger from White Christmas, Brigham Young, and The Robe, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in this film.

One really cool thing about this movie is that the air battle scenes were taken from actual combat footage photographed by members of the U.S. Air Force and the German Luftwaffe (Unlike my high school project on WWII, in which my friends and I blatantly stole copyrighted air footage from Pearl Harbor).

OH, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW: The phrase “twelve o’clock high” is actually a reference to the position of enemy planes, in this case meaning that the enemy was directly ahead and elevated above the pilot’s airplane. Sorry, that’s it. That’s all I got. I could repeat the “11:45 Medium” joke again, but I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really sold on that one in the first place.

Movie about leadership

Now both in and outside the U.S. military, Twelve O’Clock High has been used for decades to teach the principle of leadership.

I recently helped host an event at work where we invited leadership guru Jim Collins to be a keynote speaker. He said something I’ll always remember: “It’s not about getting people to do what needs to be done—it’s about getting people to want to do what needs to be done.”

We can hand out candy bars all day long to incentivize action, but that type of extrinsic motivation will buy only temporary compliance. To lead long-term, lasting change we must get those we lead to buy into the vision. They have to understand the purpose, the goal, and then we have to convince them that they are strong enough to accomplish the mission.

You may not be leading any military strikes, but you have other spheres in which you lead, primarily your home. Don’t cripple those you lead by lowering expectations or doing hard things for them. Think and pray about how to best unlock their God-given potential, and they will one day “ride on the high places.”

“As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the Lord alone did lead him…He made him ride on the high places of the earth.” — Deuteronomy 32:11-13

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2 Responses to Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

  1. Paul S says:

    Twelve O’Clock High was one of my dad’s favourite movies of all-time, so about every two years I get together with my two sons and we watch the film and talk my dad their granddad. Thank goodness it is such a great movie and easy to rewatch.

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