Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dean Jagger, 1903-1991

Today marks the birth anniversary of Dean Jagger, who appeared in all sorts of movies in his long career: as Brigham Young in the Fox biopic of the same name, to horror movies such as Revolt of the Zombies, to comedic roles as in the Jim Hutton/Paula Prentiss comedy The Honeymoon Machine. He also won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for the 1949 movie Twelve O'Clock High.

The movie starts off with Jagger, playing Army Major Stovall, back in England after the war and finding something in a shop that reminds him of his past. The causes him to want to drive back to the airfield where he spent a pivotal period of World War II. What happens next is the obligatory flashback....

The time is well before D-Day, a time when morale isn't too high. It's particularly low at this particular air base, as the pilots are given the thankless task of running daytime bombing raids over Nazi Germany. Bombing raids are tough enough at night, but during the day, when the enemy can see you, is even worse. Naturally, nobody's happy about this, but somebody's got to do the job. Given the job of increasing the morale of the flyboys is General Savage, played by Gregory Peck.

Savage is determined to give the outfit discipline and a sense of pride, even if the way he goes about it angers his underlings at first: he's a taskmaster who cuts off their liquor, and then proceeds to push them much further than any of them thought they could be pushed. What they don't see is that their general is pushing himself too, possibly to the breaking point.

Peck's General Savage is a tough man and a tough character to play, and Peck does a superb job. Jagger, on the other hand, has the task of playing a foil to Peck, the sort of character who is designed as a source of stability and a contrast to the turmoil that Peck, and everybody else at the base, faces. It's the sort of role that looks easy to play, but in its own was is probably just as difficult as the job Peck had. It's to Jagger's credit that he makes the part look effortless.

Twelve O'Clock High has made it to DVD, so you don't have to wait for it to show up on the Fox Movie Channel.

(Edit: Obviously, I didn't notice that I mistyped the year of Jagger's death. Oope!)

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