on April 15, 2004
My father was a B-25 flight instructor in WWII. Jimmy Doolittle is part of the Holy Trinity in our house. The Doolittle Raid is burned into all family members at an early age. One of the first times I ever remember my mother laughing at my father's humor was when he was imitating Van Johnson standing in the surf crying, "I lost my ship ! I lost my ship !"
What a great movie.
Each year the Doolittle survivors meet at a different part of the United States in the spring for a reunion. There's less than twenty still alive. Their reunion weekend is open to the public with fees going to charitable events. GO. If you think their heroism is exaggerated over the decades, keep this is mind: A bomber had NEVER taken off from a carrier; for all they knew, every single plane was going to crash into the ocean. And every single crew knew that they were taking off too far away from Japan and that they would NOT reach the Chinese airbases. No one backed out.
Amazing story. Great movie.
on April 21, 2003
After the massacre of the Doolittle Raid storyline in "Pearl Harbor", this movie hits home even harder. Made the year after the actual event, the trials that Ted Lawson and his crew endured are unbelievable. If made today, the film would be much more graphic by showing just how injured Lawson was when he had to make his escape through China after crash-landing. In the book, he describes it well enough to make me shudder to this day. True to the cinematic style of the 40's, Ellen Lawson is a sweet and enduring woman, true to her man and concerned about her appearance. Having met the real Ellen, I can tell you that she is full of fire, personality, and even sweeter than the movie portrays. This movie gives you a glimpse into a portion of the Doolittle Raid, America's first retaliatory strike on Japan after Pearl Harbor. If you love this film, I would also recommend that you read the book for an even deeper appreciation of these heroic men, along with their Chinese friends who risked their lives to save them. Read anything and everything that CV Glines (Carrol V. Glines) has written about Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders. Some of the men didn't make it out of China... that book is called "Four Came Home" and it shook me to the core. There are only 18 Raiders still living and it's important that we recognize these little old men for the heroes that they were/are. Much thanks to Ellen Lawson for re-releasing this book so that another generation can read about her amazing husband and his friends who did so much for us, 61 years ago.
on June 1, 2002
It's simple. Many subjects for film stemming from WWII are so compelling that they need not be altered by Hollywood to be palatable to large audiences. Yet with a few exceptions, the film industry can't resist not letting a great story based in fact rest on its own merits. 30 Seconds over Tokyo is a rare and refreshing exception to this general rule. It is an extremely accurate and gripping tale of the April 1942 Doolittle raid. What a great opportunity was lost with the abysmal "Pearl Harbor" movie....was the true story not compelling enough? And to add insult to injury they turned the Doolittle raid into "Rambo 4"...2 injured bomber crewman slay 30 Japanese infantry with a .45! Please let me know when I can get "30 Seconds over Tokyo" on DVD. Why isn't it available on that format now???
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.
on October 2, 2002
Probably one of the best propaganda movies of World War II. Produced in 1944 to increase morale, America's first bombing mission over the Japanese main islands was designated a raid more than an actual run.
The B-25 Mitchell bomber, a aging and sagging two-engine 1930s aircraft built from 1925 blueprints based on nineteen-teens technology. The Japanese, confident that the United States did not have the range to bomb the main islands, nevertheless manned a picket-line of Aluetian spotter fishing vessels at the 500-mile mark along the entire eastern shore. Modifications made to reduce the B-25's weight by removing armor plating from the cockpit and gunner's stations became most controversial. As well as anger during the training operations when some of the planes' radial-engine cylinders began to show signs of pitting along with sharp reductions in hp. Normal fuel range of the medium bomber was compensated for by a bold launching from the flight deck of the U.S.S. Hornet. This took all of the space of the ship causing not only normal operations to be suspended, but keeping a respectful distance as well. Fuel was carried inside the planes and empty cannisters dumped at waypoints rather than to leave a 'trail of breadcrumbs' back to the raiding fleet.
Forebodingly, this raid of obsolete little bombers took place at a time when the construction plans for the pressurized B-29 Superfortress hemispheric bomber had already been approved foreshadowing events to come.
Some crew members died when the landing field in China was found to be enshrouded in fog. Some were blindfolded, tortured, and toured through Japanese cities for newspaper photographers.
/with Spencer Tracey.
on July 18, 2002
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.
on July 18, 2002
On April 18 1942, sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers roared off the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S Hornet. Their mission was to drop bombs on military targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka and Nagoya. The mission was led by Lt. Colonel James H. Doolittle, who had distinguished himself during the pre-war era.
When word came out about the "The Doolittle Raid", it had an effect on the morale of both sides. The Americans had an electrifying propaganda victory, with headlines around the country saying "Pearl Harbor Avenged". The Japanese, on the other hand, were shaken. The empire they thought was invincible had been hit just months after the bombing of Pearl. They hurried their plans for the destruction of the American Pacific fleet, which resulted in their own devastation at Midway in June 1942. When they came home to the states, Doolittle and his men were treated like kings, with Doolittle receiving the Medal of Honor.
I admit that the raid wasn't that important tactically. Still, it has captured the imagination of everyone who has heard it, including myself.
"Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" was based upon a best-selling book by Lieutenant Ted W. Lawson, pilot of the number seven aircraft, nicknamed "The Ruptured Duck" because of a mishap that occurred on a practice flight. His story told of the top-secret training that the pilots went through at Eglin Field, the time they spent aboard Hornet enroute to Japan and of the mission and result of. I have not read the book, so I am unsure as to how close it comes to the movie. But the movie is certainly very good, though it lacks some polish that makes it a great movie
There is much to recommend about this. I am a big aviation buff, so I got a kick out of the aerial photography in this movie. Among them include scenes of B-25s taking off and landing or in flight over such things as farmland in the central united states, buzzing under the Golden Gate bridge and flying over the patrol boats, country and cities of "Japan" (It was most likely just another part of American country). The special effects are very good, used at recreating the bombers or the actual bombing: Those explosions looked very realistic. I also liked the music score, with mixes song like the "Air Force Hymn".
Van Johnson is very likable as Lawson. But, unlike some films at the time, this one denies him a last minute reprieve from getting his leg amputated. Those who remember Robert Walker's chilling performance as Bruno Anthony in Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" will have difficulty recognizing him here as Engineer/Gunner David Thatcher. Maybe it was the voice or the way he acts, but he seemed like such a lightweight. Two other noteworthy roles are Spencer Tracy as Colonel Doolittle, who never appears on screen for more then a minute or so at a time, and Robert Mitchum as Bob Gray, a fellow pilot and good friend of Lawson (He was at his wedding).
Some of the scenes I most remember from the movie are simple yet moving or, in some cases, humorous: While out on a practice flight, Lawson reads a letter from his wife announcing she is pregnant, which leads to a rendition of "Rockabye Baby" as the plane sways back and forth. There is a moment when Lawson and other airman get lost inside the Hornet trying to look for the deck. After being rescued in China, Lawson and his fellow crew listen to a rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" as sung by some children in their own language. Indeed, with a few exceptions, most of the Chinese characters do speak their own language.
I also liked how the men in this movie weren't supermen. They are ordinary men who volunteered and did their best in extraordinary things. They also never face a Japanese solider.
Most of my criticism comes through two things: The subplot involving Lawson's wife and various propaganda scattered throughout.
Lawson's wife is named Ellen Reynolds, I believe, and she's played by Phyllis Thaxter. The inclusion of her character didn't bother me as much as her beliefs. Though she is obviously saddened and bothered by it, she is understanding and committed to allowing Ted to go off on his mission. I also did not like her character's thought that Ted would not love her if she wasn't skinny or did dress up to look pretty. What airman wouldn't want a girl like her?
There is some wartime "cheerleading" done here: What the wife at home can do (One of Ellen's friends says she'll work in a defense factory to remain occupied). Lawson and Gray have a discussion about the moralities of bombing Japanese civilians, with Gray remarking that he doesn't love them (The Japanese), but he doesn't hate them, and Lawson saying "If I don't drop a bomb on them, sooner or later, they'll drop one on Ellen". There's also a discussion that Lawson and a Chinese man, Dr. Chung, have: When asked if he'll be coming back, Lawson says that he may not, but a lot of other guys like him will because "You're our kind of people". How could he have known that relations between the U.S and Communist China would grind to a halt after the war?
Then again, like I said, I haven't read Lawson's book. Maybe these events were in it, and that these discussions actually took place. That would mean that Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was just being faithful to the book. I guess I'll have to check out for myself.
A bit flawed, no doubt, and maybe even aged, like many World War II era films. However, with the exception of "Pearl Harbor", it is the only feature length film that tells the story of the Tokyo Raiders. As "War Stories" host Oliver North would say, "Theirs is a war story that deserves to be told".
on July 15, 2002
After watching the disastrous, multi-million-dollar hokum in 'Pearl Harbor' this weekend, I got therapy by going straight home to re-play this wonderful 1944 classic from Mervyn LeRoy. Accurate, understated heroism (none of the sappy hype from 'Pearl Harbor', thank you), and a wonderful recreation of emotions and attitudes of the era. Historically accurate down to the crew's names (some even look like those in old photos, even the young Chinese doctor is a virtual twin to the real one, who was photographed by DooLittle). It takes a while to get to the Hornet take-off sequence, but it's worth it. I first saw this movie as a kid in its 1949 re-release; I sat on the edge of my seat then, and I still get a chill watching this film today. Makes the fantasy ending of 'Pearl Harbor' look like an over-hyped comic book. "30 Seconds" is proof that in the old days, the Hollywood pro's really knew how to mount a good movie. The action sequences are beautifully done -- and no computers back then, either. It's a lost art, so GET THIS MOVIE before it disappears under the current wave of mindless multimedia junk. Much credit goes to director Mervyn LeRoy ("Little Caesar", "Mister Roberts", and many other classics), who was obsessed with technical and historical accuracy. Despite the fact that "Tokyo" is actually shots of coastal cities in Oregon and Washington state, and the B25's are B25-D's instead of the original 'B' models (which were battle casualties by 1944), one has to admit that the effects are chlllingly effective. Fans of the Superman films will get a kick out of seeing pretty and talented young Phyliss Thaxter, who played Clark Kent's mom in 1978, and who's simply perfect as a war-time bride. Personal dramas aside, this movie succeeds quite well as an "action" film that more closely resembles the real, harrowing story than any of the megabuck diasters of the last few years. The b&w photography is an example of the cinematic artistry that peaked at MGM in the 40's. It's a shame that garbage like "Pearl Harbor" gets a market-blasting DVD release while the wasted film is still warm in the can, while "30 Seconds" languishes in VHS. Come on, Turner Classics, get this beautiful camera work onto DVD as soon as you can. The VHS print, meanwhile, is still fairly decent.
on 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 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.
on August 28, 2001
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.