30 SECONDS OVER TOKYO
(director: Mervyn LeRoy; screenwriters: Dalton Trumbo/from the book by Major Ted W. Lawson and Robert Considine; cinematographers: Harold Rosson/Robert Surtees; editor: Frank Sullivan; music: Herbert Stothart; cast: Van Johnson (Lt. Ted Lawson), Robert Walker (Cpl. David Thatcher), Spencer Tracy (Gen. James Doolittle), Phyllis Thaxter (Ellen Lawson), Tim Murdock (Lt. Dean Davenport), Robert Mitchum (Lt. Bob Gray); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Zimbalist; MGM; 1944)
“It’s winsome because of its sincerity, painting a sympathetic portrait of the men who carried out this dangerous mission.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Plays like a piece of apple pie served up as a patriotic World War II drama, that has such detailed air bombing scenes it could have easily been a documentary. It deservedly won an Oscar for its special effects. Spencer Tracy plays real-life Lt. Col. James P. Doolittle, making a cameo appearance and taking a lower billing as a favor to his friend Van Johnson–a young actor he wanted to help. Van Johnson received a draft deferment because of a head injury requiring a steel plate in his head. It’s based on the book written by Major Ted W. Lawson (who was part of Doolittle’s Raid and the focus of the film) and Robert Considine, Dalton Trumbo is the writer (he was later blacklisted by HUAC for being a Commie). Mervyn LeRoy directs, doing a good job in filming the action sequences.
The narrative is about the secret retaliatory attack on Tokyo four months after Pearl Harbor that was headed by Doolittle. It chronicles both the extensive military training for and the skilled execution for the Doolittle Raid, and pays special attention to the story of the gung-ho pilots who volunteered for the secret mission. The planes have to fly into Tokyo low to disguise themselves as Jap planes and there’s the unknown factor as this is the first time twin-engine bombers take off from an aircraft carrier. Nice guy Ted Lawson (Van Johnson) is the featured pilot. His loyal new bride Ellen (Phyllis Thaxter) is pregnant. Lawson will lose a leg while escaping from China after the attack. Other brave pilots have a narrow escape through China (they can’t return to the carrier), with some being captured and others going into the sea. Lawson’s bomber, nicknamed the “Ruptured Duck,” also has on board a young Robert Mitchum as Lt. Bob Gray.
It’s winsome because of its sincerity, painting a sympathetic portrait of the men who carried out this dangerous mission.
REVIEWED ON 2/4/2006 GRADE: B