Peter Fonda’s 1964 ’High’

Every Saturday, The Savvy Screener’s Boomer Box is counting down “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960s,” in reverse chronological order, as researched and written by Todd M. Pence. (This series ran originally in the Classic 1960’s TV Facebook group.)

#30: 12 O’Clock High: ‘The Sound of Distant Thunder’

12 O'Clock High

The middle of October 1964 was quite a week for great television. Today features the second of three installments which were originally aired within just a few days of each other.

ABC’s 12 O’ Clock High (a series based on the 1949 film of the same name) was, along with Combat!, one of two premier 1960s military dramas set during World War II. During the first season, Robert Lansing was the show’s lead as Brigadier General Frank Savage, commander of a U.S. Air Force base in England.

On October 16, 1964, the episode “The Sound of Distant Thunder” welcomed guest star Peter Fonda as Andy Lathrop, a green pilot fresh off the farm who is assigned as the base’s new bombardier. At first Savage is taken aback at Lathrop’s obvious youth and wet-behind-the-ears manner, but Lathrop proves his mettle when he saves’ Savage’s life after a routine mission goes wrong. Savage, seeing potential in the youngster, takes him under his wing with an idea to promote him to full lieutenancy.

But Lathrop disappoints Savage after failing to return on time from a leave – one in which he started a drunken brawl and became infatuated with a local girl. When Savage rebukes Lathrop, the latter plans to desert the army and marry his romantic liaison – but he is about to get a harsh lesson in the realities of life and war.

Although it would later be renewed for a second [and then a third] season, Lansing would not be retained by producer Quinn Martin. In a move rare for the time, Savage died heroically in the fall 1965 season premiere, making the series one of the first on television to kill off a regular character (the half-hour version of Naked City had also done this back in 1959).

You can watch 12 O’Clock High Saturdays at 11 pm over the air on Heroes & Icons.

(Source for images: IMDb)

About Todd M. Pence

Todd M Pence has been an amateur historian and scholar of American television for the past 35 years. “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960” is the product of decades of research, not just in active viewing but in extensive combing of newspaper and magazine archives to read the original reviews of programs at the time they aired. He has also reached out to fellow television researchers to get their opinions. Pence maintains that the decade of the 1960's constituted the zenith of American primetime television drama, and that we will probably never see its like again. His purpose in compiling this list was to preserve this history and to spotlight many exceptional programs which have been forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history. Pence holds a BA in Journalism from West Virginia University and has worked for the past 20 years in the Fairfax (Virginia) County Public School system

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