Twelve O' Clock High (1949)
When the United States decided that winning World War II required getting into the risky business of bombing Nazi targets by day, it was the 8th Air Force that took on the task. Twelve O'Clock High, based on a novel by two retired 8th officers, detailed with taut suspense the grueling demands of commanding a bomber group in the early, unnerving days of bombing without the cover of night. Gregory Peck, giving his best performance until To Kill a Mockingbird 13 years later, glints with steely hardness as the appropriately named Gen. Frank Savage, called in to replace a commander suspected of over-identifying with his men. After kicking ass all over the base, Savage whips his jittery men into loyal, dedicated flyers only to gradually fall into the same gut-wrenching predicament as his predecessor. Dean Jagger won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his part as Savage's wise, rueful adjutant, and Gary Merrill and Hugh Marlowe (who teamed in All About Eve the following year) are equally affecting in supporting roles. Critically lauded for its unsentimental, penetrating glimpse into the no-win tragedy of wartime command, Twelve O'Clock High also became popular in the business world as a how-to for developing leadership qualities. But its greatest value is as a stirring tribute to genuine heroes.