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Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
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115 of 119 people found the following review helpful
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 the deserved reputation of being one of the most accurate films produced during World War II about the actual war, winning the 1945 Oscar for Best Special Effects. The cast includes Robert Walker, Don DeFore, and a very young Robert Mitchum. If you prefer history to melodrama, then it might be worth your while to do a double-feature of "Tora, Tora, Tora" and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" some weekend.
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95 of 99 people found the following review helpful
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 action. I can well understand why it won an Academy Award for special effects because it put the audience right there on those little planes along with the men and used newsreel footage to supplement the scenes shot inside the planes. I really learned about the mission and the nature of the training, and felt the authenticity of a film that was actually made in 1944, not just a revisionist historian's interpretation. Here, the slang was real. They got the "dope" on what was going on, found out that everything was "swell" and the women were called "girls". Everyone smoked cigarettes too, a reality the recent politically correct "Pearl Harbor" seemed to ignore. Also, considering the hatred that raged during the war, I was surprised that in one scene Van Johnson says that his family had a Japanese gardener and he didn't seem like a bad guy. And when Doolittle addresses his men before they take off, he talks about the fact that the men will be taking civilian lives as well as the military targets. The raid was successful but the film doesn't end there. Van Johnson and his crew were shot down over China and were treated like heroes by the Chinese. Some of the scenes that followed, where Van Johnson's leg has to be removed are harrowing and displayed his fine acting skills.
To get a good understanding of what it must have been like in 1944 in America, this video is a must. Not only do we get a feeling of the patriotism, we also hear the music, hear the slang and get a sense of time and place that is impossible to re-create 50 years later. Highly recommended.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
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 create a strong psychological impact on the Japanese who used to believe their territory was safe from such an attack (a parallel can be drawn here with what happened in New York on September 11, 2001). Another purpose was to boost the morale of Americans, both that of the civil population and of the military. This dual aim was fully reached.
Other main interesting aspects of the film - and the book - include : the training for the mission, the fact that you see the planes from the inside a great deal of the time, the relationships (between the airmen and their machines, between captain Lawson and his wife, between the pilots and their crews, between the army and the navy and between the Chinese and the Americans), another strong aspect being the struggle to survive.
It's also worth mentioning that feelings are depicted in a fairly modest way and that humility is often present which adds to the consistency of the film.
The acting is very good. Van Johnson is Lawson, Robert Mitchum is his pilot friend, Phyllis Baxter is Lawson's wife and Spencer Tracy portrays James Doolittle.
If you're fond of these actors, fond of aviation (particularly if you like propellers), fond of history and aviation history and fond of well-shot and well-scripted movies, don't miss this one !
Don't miss the book either.
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59 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2004
"Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" is based on the book of the same name, authored by Captain Lawson. The book tells the story of the training, execution and aftermath of the "Doolittle Raid" through the perspective of Lawson (and to a lesser degree, his crew). Lawson never meant the book to be more than a personal retelling of what happened. The movie pretty faithfully follows the book, though some wartime schmaltz is tossed in as well.

The strike itself was in fact designed primarily to raise morale of the homefront and US armed forces, who were taking a pounding in the first 6 months of the war in the Pacific. The success of the raid, made Doolittle-already famous as an air racer in the 30's- and the B25 household words.

This is ironic in the B25's case as it was accepted for production in the 1940-41 "50000 a year" aircraft expansion authorized by President Roosevelt. As a medium bomber it really had no doctrinal role in airpower as conceived by the AAC at the time; it was accepted because it was reasonably quick, had excellent range and was easy to fly. No small advantage, when the average age of the pilots who would take this aircraft into combat was 22.... The aircraft proved one of the most versatile of the war, especially after conversion into an attack aircraft with the bombardier comparment replaced with a solid-nose of guns and cannon. Doolittle basically chose the aircraft for the simple reason they were available (the upper echelon refused to release the B17/B24 "Strategic" Bombers for what may be a suicide mission) and had the range. Only after he saw what the AAC was willing to cough up did the idea for carrier transport come about-contrary to myth.

The movie glosses over the development of the plan, and the frustrations Doolittle and his planners encountered. Understandably, since the now USAAF senior leadership would look uncooperative-which they were. Instead the movie gives some standard "Hollywood" personalities: the naive but determined kid from Montana, the loudmouthed but sincere Southern person etc They indulge in some all-American antics up to the time they start training for the mission (My Father who was a crewmember during WW2, would say when he saw what the actors were doing, "crews NEVER acted like that, EVER". Certainly, a crew wagging wings while singing "Rockabye Baby" would've been as peculiar then as now.) Some great social history is here for the viewer who looks for it. This film was made in 1944, and the current issues in US society of that time make it into the movie. Also,the B25 footage is outstanding with some of the actual raid footage-the Nav with the movie camera was a real person-combined with stock and model footage. Actual B25 crews were used for the formation flying and training portions of the film. The operations details make this film valuable as a historical piece. As other reviewers have said, doubtful CGI could improve on the aerial sequences.

So, for anyone interested in WW2 aviation, this is a must-see; the running time given over to schmaltzy "All-Americanisms" instead of the planning keep me from giving it 5 stars, though.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2005
I bought this VHS tape last year and absolutely enjoyed it. It is even better in the fact that it so closely follows Ted Lawson's book of how that historic event really happened (a well-planned and well-executed counter strike during America's darkest days of the war with Japan). What a boost it was to U.S. morale.

Only problem is...my VHS tape now starts wigging out during the best part of the movie (when they are launching from the Hornet all the way though the bombing of Japan) and does not go back to normal until where the Chinese were taking them to safety.

I agree with the previous comment on how they can take last years flop and immediately put it on DVD but not this eternal classic of a movie.

PUT IT ON DVD!!!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2003
Sometimes when movies are made about historical events, many aspects are either left out completely or they are stated incorrectly. Neither is the case with this highly exciting movie. Starring Van Johnson, Spencer Tracy, and Phyllis Thaxter, this movie does an excellent job of accurately portraying the events of the Doolittle raid as it actually happened. Van Johnson stars as Ted Lawson, an actual pilot in the Doolittle raid. The story of the raid is told through his eyes. I've read several books about the raid, and I was pleased that the producers of the film were so correct in their filmmaking. The movie shows the entire process from beginning to end. From the training at Eglin base in Florida to the take-off from the deck of the USS Hornet, each minute detail is covered with historical correctness.
Lawson himself was an advisor to the film. This helped even more with the historical aspect. Van Johnson was an excellent choice to play Lawson. His performance throughout the film made it a pleasure to watch. Phyllis Thaxter does a wonderful job as Ellen Lawson. Top billing for this film went to Spencer Tracy as Jimmy Doolittle, but his role is really an extended cameo; Lawson and his crew are the real stars of the movie.
Perhaps the best part of the movie was the actual take-off from the Hornet, the bombing of Tokyo, and the crash landing in China. unable to parachute from their plane, the crew of Lawson's B-25 were forced to crash land. Lawson was thrown through the cockpit glass upon landing and suffered many broken teeth as well as a severely damaged leg which would later have to be amputated. Fortunately, the crew was aided by many Chinese who risked their lives to keep the flyers safe and eventually they are returned to safe ground. Lawson is concerned about how his wife will feel about him after his leg had been removed, but the ending tells it all. I highly recommend this excellent film. World War II movie fans will surely enjoy this one.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This movie is a refreshing respite from such current over-hyped and unrealistic war movies as Pearl Harbor. The movie realistically and unsentimentally tells the story of the daring Doolittle raid, concentrating on the crew of one of the 16 bombers, headed up by Van Johnson as captain, where he turns in a fine performance. But the other characters are also nicely drawn and neither over-romanticized nor over-sentimentalized. Some of the action sequences, such as the actual bombing raid at low altitude over Tokyo, are truly spectacular. I don't know how they did it, without modern technology, but this scene could stand up to any modern movie's special effects any time. The movie also realistically portrays the training for the mission, where the crews are taught to take off in 500 feet instead of 1500 feet, the normal take-off distance for a B-24. As a result, you get to see a lot of the inside of the planes as well as the outside, again adding to the overall realism. Interestingly, Tracy doesn't have that big a part in the movie, compared to Johnson and his crew, but when he does appear, usually to just brief the men on their upcoming mission, he's nevertheless superb. Another interesting aspect of the movie is Doolittle's discussion of civilian casualties, and that any pilot who objects to killing civilians can withdraw from the mission without penalty if he so chooses. All in all a fine movie that shows that the old Hollywood greats knew how to make a better war movie than the moderns with all their extra resources and technology. Big Steve says go see it (or in this case rent it or buy it), and don't Bogart he popcorn.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2005
My title pretty much sums up my thoughts on this (and other "classics").

The studios don't waste any time releasing acknowledged flops from 2005 onto DVD - films that should have never been made in the first place.

Yet, a long list of excellent films, including classic films such as this film, continues to be ignored, apparently just because they were originally in the theatres prior to 1995.

What's the deal?!!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 24, 2003
The Doolittle Raid was an historic event, not propaganda, as suggested in another review.
The raid carried out in 1942 conveyed two messages: one to the Japanese people, that we could bring the war to their shores and the other message was to the American people, who need shoring up after Pearl Harbor.
It was a daring mission and will be long remembered in our military history.
The cast was very good and I thought Spencer Tracy was excellent as Lt. Col. Doolittle.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2006
'Thirty Seconds over Tokyo" directed by Mervyn LeRoy is a wartime produced tribute to the earliest air raids made into Japan in 1942, orchestrated by General Jimmy Doolittle.

Establishing acting veteran Spencer Tracy playing the authoritative Doolittle plays largely a supporting role in this film. The true story is based on the diary kept by Army Air Corps flier Lt. Ted Lawton, a man under Doolittle's command played sympathetically by Van Johnson. Johnson and a number of other flyboys including actors Robert Mitchum and Robert Walker had volunteered for a secret mission which would require months of training. They practiced takeoffs on a short runway presumably to simulate the deck of an aircraft carrier. Their mission was to conduct bombing raids on the Japanese mainland to prove that these targets were vulnerable and to hopefully curb the far reaching expansion of the Imperial Japanese forces.

The first part of the film establishes the camaraderie of the men during training and gives us a view into their personal side. The newlywed Johnson is married to his wholesome wife Ellen played by Phyllis Thaxter. After 6 months of marriage and all of two weeks alone together she of course is pregnant.

The men finally depart on a aircraft carrier to commence their mission. This begins the second part of the film. We follow Johnson's crew as he soars across the Tokyo landscape is some very nice footage. Their strategy was to drop their payload and head to some secure landing strips in China. Running out of fuel they have to ditch their plane and crash land off the Chinese coast. The badly injured crew in rescued by some pariotic Chinese rebels whose abhorence of the Japanese make them wonderful allies.

The Chinese shelter the airmen sheltering them from capture and shuttling them from village to village. They courageously manage to arrange for them to be transported back to the U.S. command.

Johnson who is badly mutilated fears that his infirmities will cause his loving wife to reject him.
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