That might sound pretty harsh - and I certainly have enjoyed seeing him in many movies, including a number of excellent Hitchcock films - it's just that the 'perfect Hollywood leading man', which he embodies to my way of seeing things, just doesn't always seem very real or credible. But after seeing Twelve O'Clock High I'm afraid I might be as fond of Peck as many of the women who doubtless swooned over him back in the day!
What a way to start a film! Darryl Zanuck, I salute you.
This makes for a non-stop four day run of raids, and this new one is scheduled to be flown at a suicidally low altitude, as previous missions have been ineffective. Wheatcroft and 'Doc' face the dilemma of deciding who's fit, it anyone, to fly this mission, leading to Wheatcroft remonstrating with his superiors. His immediate superior is his buddy, Savage, and above him is the 'old man', aka Maj. Gen. Pritchard (Millard Mitchell)
Whilst the film tackles tough material, and doesn't shy away from some of the darker aspects of war, it nonetheless has a surprisingly light touch, and even numerous laughs; witness, for example, the rapport between Savage and McIllhenny, which culminates in Savage suggesting McIllhenny's sergeant stripes should be attached with zippers. Why? If you can't guess, watch the movie to enjoy finding out!
According to historian and author Paul Overy (?), the Bombing War was a very inefficient and inhumane 'blunt instrument'. It's not shown that way here. But then this is a film about the effect of the combat stresses on the bombing crews and their staffs, rather than the efficacy of the strategies and tactics they pursue, or the view from the receiving end.
As with many war films made during or just after WWII, real wartime footage is used. In this instance during the final major bomb run that Savage leads. As usual, it's pretty clear what's newsreel footage and what's been shot later. This both lends veracity at the same time as undermining it, in a strange and possibly irresolvable paradox. And it's only in the use of German aerial combat footage that this film incorporates anything from 'the other side', the narrative itself remains resolutely on the Anglo/British side of the Channel.
It's tricky to exit a narrative as compelling as this, when you know that the stories of the characters you've grown to care for - and that's very much a theme in this film - will continue. But the film comes to as neat an end as one could hope for (particularly as it's also based on an amalgamation of historical source material).
A superb film, well worth catching.