1940s Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)

Published on November 20th, 2007 | by Chris

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Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)


Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On November 20, 2007
Last modified:October 6, 2012

Summary:

If you're interested in what a typical 40's "popular" wartime movie was all about, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is one of the defining classics.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)If there was a defining moment for the US involvement in World War II, it was obviously Pearl Harbor.  However the second, and I think even more important event was the April 1942 bombing raid on Tokyo launched by Col. Doolittle.  The sheer brazenness and tenacity that it showed the Japanese, not to mention giving the folks back home a little bit of a lift in spirits....  Too bad we'll never see ballsy, all-or-nothing maneuvers like that again.

In short, Doolittle put together a band of Army Air Force pilots and their B-25's, and taught them how to launch from a carrier, for a bombing raid directly at the heart of Japan.  Forget that nobody thought it could be done, dammit, they did it.  You can read the whole story over at Wikipedia....

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is a look into that raid.  Is it a particularly accurate and fact-filled look?  Probably not, but that's not the point.  Most of the film is centered on Lt. Lawson (Van Johnson), and his new wife Ellen (Phyllis Thaxter.)  And that's where the heart of this story lies.  Others have tried to pull off similar stories (such as the ill-fated Pearl Harbor) but this film really packs a punch in the emotion department, and really doesn't hold much back.

From Lawson's volunteering for a mission he doesn't know anything about, and really can't tell anyone about, he goes on to training, and on to the mission.  Unfortunately he barely makes it to the shores of China, and his entire crew, save the tailgunner, is badly injured.  In fact he loses a leg from his injuries, and has to come to terms with that, and so does his wife.

Now, picture yourself in 1944.  Imagine how many other people have gone through nearly identical situations.  A husband or son or father being called away to God-only-knows where at a moments notice, without a chance for proper goodbyes....  Only to come home (if they're lucky) seriously injured, physically or otherwise.  Perspective is everything.  But even (especially?) today that message and sentiment is just as relevant.

I can only imagine the nerve a film like this must've struck with audiences back then.

Really everything about the film is vintage 1944.  From the acting to the production, to the soft-focus closeups of Ms. Thaxter, to the Asian stereotypes and cultural misunderstandings (which really aren't even that bad in comparison to other pictures...), to the execution of the raid itself.

And I have to say I was somewhat impressed with the technical achievements of the FX crew (if you could call it that) for the raid.  I can't help but wonder how they got some of that footage together.  For its time they really pulled it off.

If you're interested in what a typical 40's "popular" wartime movie was all about, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is one of the defining classics.  Spencer Tracy also gets billing as the legendary Col. Doolittle, although his screen time is really quite limited compared to Johnson, Thaxter, and Lt. Lawson's bomber crew.

If you happen to catch Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo on DVD, like I did (thanks Netflix!) You should check out the special features section.  In there is a ho-hum newsreel piece on the French ship the Normandie, a funny bit entitled Movie Pests, and a Barney Bear MGM cartoon, Bear Raid Warden.  Watch 'em first for the proper experience!

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Description

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (DVD)After the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the string of defeats that followed for the United States, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, devises a plan for a daring raid to strike at the heart of Japan...

DVD Information

Binding: DVD
Aspect Ratio:
Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Brand: Warner Brothers
Manufacturer: Warner Home Video
Original Release Date:
Actors:
  • Spencer Tracy
  • Van Johnson
  • Robert Mitchum

Features

  • Factory sealed DVD

Reviews

Customer Reviews
Average Customer Review

116 of 120 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cinematic tribute to the real heroes of the Doolittle Raid, June 14, 2001
By 
Lawrance Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (COMMUNITY FORUM 04)   
Now that most people know "Pearl Harbor" is a combination of "Tora, Tora, Tora" and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," this 1944 film directed by Mergyn LeRoy might get some renewed interest. Dalton Trumbo's screenplay is based on the book by Captain Ted. W. Lawson and Robert Considine, and it is Van Johnson as Lawson who is the main character in this film. Spencer Tracy's role as Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle is basically a supporting part, which, or course, Tracy nails. The film is an exciting and essentially faithful retelling of the famous air raid of Japan that was America's first significant payback for the raid on Pearl Harbor. The film not only has a documentary style, including actual footage of the B-25s taking off from the carrier Hornet, it also uses the real name of the raiders, which is a nice tribute to the members of the Doolittle Raid. Covering both the grueling training as well as the actual raid, "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" has... Read more
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96 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An historic mission and authentic view of WW2 patriotism, August 28, 2001
By 
Linda Linguvic (New York City) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This 1944 film, shot in black and white, is based on a true story. Four months after Pearl Harbor had been bombed, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle devised a plan for a daring raid on the heart of Japan itself. To do this he had to train army bomber pilots to do something no one ever dreamed possible - launch 16 fully loaded bombers from an aircraft carrier. It was a success. And this film is a tribute to those men.
Van Johnson stars as Lieutenant Ted Lawson and he does a great job as the fighter pilot who is sometimes scared, confused and very human. The supporting cast includes Spencer Tracy as Doolittle, and Robert Mitchum, Don Defore, Robert Walker and a dozen other young actors whose names never did become household words. Phyllis Thaxter is cast as Van Johnson's young wife and the romance scenes they have together, complete with background violin music, are the only scenes I found a bit too overdone for modern tastes.
The rest of the film however, was full of... Read more
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesson in history and aviation. You're on board !, April 18, 2002
April 18, 1942 - April 2002. The Doolittle raid over Japan took place 60 years ago which gives me a reason to write a review of this movie really worth seeing.
Like the book it's faithfully based on, the film is divided in 3 main parts :
1) the training for the raid or how to learn on land to get a heavy B-25 to take off from a carrier knowing you only have one chance to do it : the day of the mission,
2) the bombing raid itself involving 16 planes (if I remember right), and
3) the survival story : how to get back home after crashing in hostile territory : mainland China occupied by Japanese forces (knowing it was impossible to fly back to the carrier and that you couldn't probably have landed on it with a heavy plane like a B-25).
The movie focuses mostly one one crew, the one headed by captain Lawson.
It's interesting in many ways.
First, there's the historical aspect of this first US raid on Japan after Pearl Harbor. One purpose of it was to... Read more
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Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) Chris

Summary: If you're interested in what a typical 40's "popular" wartime movie was all about, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is one of the defining classics.

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About the Author

I've been watching war movies for probably 25 years now. Since December 2006 I've been sharing my habit and passion for these movies here on this site.



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