Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (DVD)
There is no more ringing title among World War II movies than Thirty Seconds over Tokyo
, and the mission it celebrates was unquestionably historic: a 400-mile bombing raid to carry the war to Japan itself mere months after that nation's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Yet the film is less memorable than many WWII pictures with less exalted factual basis. At the time, critic James Agee eloquently defined both its virtues and limitations as "a big-studio, big-scale film, free of artistic pretension ... transformed by its not very imaginative but very dogged sincerity into something forceful, simple, and thoroughly sympathetic in spite of all its big-studio, big-scale habits." That remains true today, but perhaps the movie--and its unimpeachably noble, admirably life-sized characters--wouldn't seem so stuck in the amber of a bygone era if Mervyn LeRoy and company had pumped a little "artistic pretension" into it.
Spencer Tracy--as James H. Doolittle, architect of the raid--rates the most towering screen credit, and he's superb. But his role's an extended cameo; the emotional core of the film is B-25 pilot Ted Lawson (Van Johnson) and his wife, Ellen (the glowing Phyllis Thaxter). Lawson's bestselling memoir (with Bob Considine) of his training for the secret mission, his group's launching from the aircraft carrier Hornet, and his crash landing and protracted ordeal in China--where he lost a leg--has been faithfully served. The film is long on homely detail and all-American decency (including a remarkably outspoken regret over the unavoidability of civilian casualties) but achieves its greatest impact in the raid itself. That sequence, in addition to boasting Oscar-winning special effects, is mostly shot in riveting silence. --Richard T. Jameson
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.