Twelve O'Clock High (1949)
DB-17G 44-83592 (used in belly landing scene)
One of the best, if not the best, aviation movie ever produced. Released by 20th Century Fox in December 1949, the movie was based upon a pretty-true-to-life novel by Eighth Air Force veterans Bernie Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett. It tells the exploits of the fictitious 918th Bomb Group (either a combination of the 91st and 318th BGs, or 3 x 306th BG, depending upon your source) and General Frank Savage during the early months of the American air war over Europe. The story follows the 918th as a hard-luck B-17 Group with high losses and low morale and the methods Savage uses to turn the group around. In the end, Savage becomes a psychological casualty of the war. The movie stars Gregory Peck as Savage and Dean Jagger as Harvey Stovall. Twelve O'Clock High was nominated for several Academy Awards in 1949, and Jagger was awarded Best Supporting Actor for the year. The film was directed by Harry King.
Of particular interest to B-17 aficionados is the airplane footage. The Forts are not central to the movie but become the stage from which the drama is set. The film judiciously draws from AAF combat footage for the action scenes. Shot in 1948, the film makers also utilized a squadron of ex-atomic test drone B-17Gs on loan from the USAF. They were refitted with turrets and repainted as Eighth Air Force B-17Fs. Most of the airfield scenes were shot at an abandoned auxiliary field to Eglin AFB (in Florida) but located just across the state line in Alabama. That airfield has since been reopened as Fort Rucker with the Army. The dramatic opening scenes to the film were shot as the film makers found the unused airfield. It was later cleaned up and dressed as an operational English bomber station.
One of the most dramatic aerial scenes used in the film (and reused in other later films) was the B-17 belly landing done by Paul Mantz. (There is a whole legend behind Mantz's solo B-17 flight and crash landing.) Mantz also provided his B-25H, NX1203, for a cameraship for some of the aerial scenes. There are several published accounts of how the film was made.
Buy this Movie!
The 12 O'Clock High Logbook by Allan T. Duffin and Paul Matheis
Celluloid Wings by Jim Farmer
When Hollywood Ruled the Skies by Bruce Orriss
Mantz and 44-83592 touching down at Ozark AAF, Alabama, in June 1949.
From left, actors Gary Merrill (Davenport), Hugh Marlowe (Gately), Dean Jagger (Stovall), and Gregory Peck (Savage) in a key scene from the film. (Via Bruce Orriss' When Hollywood Ruled the Skies)
The crew of the Leper Colony meeting it's angry new aircraft commander, Lt. Col. Ben Gately played by Hugh Marlowe. (Via Bruce Orriss' When Hollywood Ruled the Skies)
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