Classic Film Guide

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) - full review!

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, Army Major Ted Lawson's autobiographical book (of the same name, co-written with Bob Considine) was turned into this above average World War II drama, which details the James Doolittle-led first bombing of Japan after Pearl Harbor, by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. The movie won an Oscar for Best Effects, Special Effects; its B&W Cinematography was also nominated. Van Johnson plays Lawson; Spencer Tracy plays the eventual Medal of Honor recipient Doolittle, who's not really central to this story's telling about the men who volunteered for this mission that was executed just 131 days after December 7, 1941. Instead, the plot revolves around Lawson, his relationship with his pregnant bride of six months Ellen (Phyllis Thaxter), his crew which included gunner Corporal David Thatcher (Robert Walker), and their experiences before, during, and after their mission, a moral boosting success. Robert Mitchum plays a fellow Army Lieutenant pilot to Johnson's Lawson, Bob Gray, who had also been (according to the film) in the Lawsons’ wedding party.

The film details the secrecy of the mission, the three months of training at Elgin Air Force Base near Valparaiso, Florida (on the Gulf of Mexico, near Destin) the sixteen pilots and their crews had to go through to do something that had never been done before (fly B-25 bombers off an aircraft carrier, shortening their takeoff from 1,500 to 500 feet), their sea voyage from San Francisco to 400 miles from the Japanese coast on the U.S.S. Hornet, their titled time & mission over their targets (which were more than just Tokyo), and the aftermath which included most of the planes running out of fuel and crash landing in China (because they'd been spotted by a Japanese patrol boat, they had to launch the planes earlier than planned). Since Lawson's plane was one of these, and he & his crew, save Corporal Thatcher, were injured, the last 40+ minutes of the film details their experiences with the native Chinese, who helped them evade capture to eventually return home safely. Alan Napier plays a British missionary and Benson Fong plays a native doctor, both of whom were among those who helped the men from suffering the fate Lieutenant Commander Stephen Jurika (Leon Ames), who used to live in Japan and provided valuable targeting information for the mission, had warned them about - falling into Japanese hands. Some did, though they are only mentioned in the film.

In this MGM produced movie, a brief reference is made to some valuable intelligence information which Doolittle's men received from a submarine that had infiltrated Tokyo bay prior to their bombing mission. Warner Bros. made a film called Destination Tokyo (1943) which had previously described that mission.

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