Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
|Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Produced by||Sam Zimbalist|
|Screenplay by||Dalton Trumbo|
|Based on||Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1943) by Ted W. Lawson and Robert Considine|
|Music by||Herbert Stothart|
Robert Surtees, ASC|
Harold Rosson, ASC
|Edited by||Frank Sullivan|
|Box office||$6.2 million|
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is a 1944 American war film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It is based on the true story of the Doolittle Raid, America's first retaliatory air strike against Japan four months after the December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Mervyn LeRoy directed Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Sam Zimbalist produced the film. The screenplay by Dalton Trumbo was based on the 1943 book of the same name, by Captain Ted W. Lawson, a pilot on the raid. The film stars Van Johnson as Lawson, Phyllis Thaxter as his wife Ellen, Robert Walker as Corporal David Thatcher, Robert Mitchum as Lieutenant Bob Gray and Spencer Tracy as Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, the man who planned and led the raid.
In the book Lawson gives eyewitness accounts of the training, the mission, and the aftermath as experienced by his crew and others who flew the mission on April 18, 1942. Lawson piloted "The Ruptured Duck", the seventh of 16 B-25s to take off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. The film is noted for its accurate depiction of the raid and use of actual wartime footage of the bombing aircraft.
In spring 1942, a few months after the Pearl Harbor attack, the United States Army Air Forces plan to retaliate by bombing Tokyo and four other Japanese cities—launching traditionally land-based bombers from US Navy aircraft carriers that can approach near enough the Japanese mainland to make bombing feasible. After dropping bombs planes will continue to Nationalist controlled parts of China, and crews will regroup in Chungking.
Lt.Col. James Doolittle (Spencer Tracy), the architect and leader of the mission, assembles a volunteer force of aircrew, who begin their top-secret training by learning a new technique to make their North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers airborne in the short distance of 500 feet or less, to simulate taking off from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
After depicting the raiders' weeks of hazardous training at Eglin Field, Florida and Naval Air Station Alameda, the story goes on to describe the raid and its aftermath. While en route to Japan, the Hornet's task force is discovered by a Japanese picket boat, which has radioed their position. It is sunk immediately by American gunfire but the bombers are forced to take off twelve hours early at the extreme limit of their range. However, the bombers successfully reach Japan and drop their bombs. Dolittle himself leads the raid with incendiary bombs, designed to aid the following aircraft identify targets.
After the attack, most of the B-25s run out of fuel before reaching their recovery airfields in Nationalist controlled China. Crews are forced to either bail out over China or crash-land along the coast.[Note 1] Lawson's B-25 crashes in the surf just off the Chinese coast while trying to land on a beach in darkness and heavy rain. He and his crew survive, badly injured, but face hardships and danger while being escorted to Nationalist lines by friendly Chinese. Lawson's injuries require the mission's flight surgeon to amputate his left leg above the knee.
The closing stages of the film feature many of the Dolittle Raiders reunited in Chungking, per the original plan, where Chinese sing the Star Spangled Banner, in Mandarin, in an emotional climax. The story ends in the United States with Lawson reunited with his pregnant wife Ellen in a Washington, D.C. hospital. In tears, Lawson tells his wife: "When things were the worst I could see your beautiful face."
In both the film and book Lawson gives eyewitness accounts of the training, the mission, and the aftermath as experienced by his crew and others who flew the mission on April 18, 1942. Lawson piloted "The Ruptured Duck", the seventh of 16 B-25s to take off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. The film is noted for its accurate depiction of the raid and use of actual wartime footage of the bombing aircraft.
Verisimilitude was obtained by working closely with Captain Ted Lawson and other members of the raid. The use of Hurlburt Field and Peel Field near Mary Esther, Florida and Eglin Field (present day Eglin AFB, the actual base where the Doolittle Raiders trained), along with using operational USAAF B-25C and -D bombers (which closely resembled the B-25B Mitchells used in 1942) made for an authentic, near-documentary feel. Auxiliary Field 4, Peel Field, was used for the short-distance take off practice scenes.
Although an aircraft carrier was not available due to wartime needs (the USS Hornet itself had been sunk in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 27 October 1942 only six months after launching the raid), a mix of realistic studio sets and original newsreel footage faithfully recreated the USS Hornet scenes. Principal photography took place between February and June 1944. [Note 2]
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo was recognized as an inspirational patriotic film with propagandistic value. The New York Times in 1944 summed up the universal verdict on the production, "our first sensational raid on Japan in April 1942 is told with magnificent integrity and dramatic eloquence ..." Variety focused on the human elements, "inspired casting ... the war becomes a highly personalized thing through the actions of these crew members."
Critical acclaim followed Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo with many reviewers considering it the finest aviation film of the period. The film is now considered a "classic aviation and war film." The actual Raiders considered it a worthy tribute.
According to MGM records the film made $4,297,000 in the US and Canada and $1,950,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $1,382,000.
Awards and honors
In the 1945 Academy Awards, the Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo team of A. Arnold Gillespie, Donald Jahraus and Warren Newcombe (photography) and Douglas Shearer (sound) won the Oscar for Best Special Effects. Robert Surtees, A.S.C. and Harold Rosson, A.S.C. were also nominated in the category of Black and White Cinematography.
American Film Institute lists:
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Lt. Colonel James H. Doolittle - Nominated Hero
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers - Nominated
In popular culture
At a point in his career when he rarely made public appearances or commercials, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo star Van Johnson did a 1970s commercial for Post Fortified Oat Flakes breakfast cereal on a set reminiscent of B-25s on an aircraft carrier flight deck, concluding with the line that the cereal would "take me to Tokyo – and back!"
Additionally, both Jefferson Airplane's second live album Thirty Seconds Over Winterland (1973) and experimental rock band Pere Ubu's 1975 debut single, "30 Seconds Over Tokyo", are named after the film.
- The Purple Heart (1944), a fictionalized account of the fate of a group of American airmen from the Doolittle raid placed on trial in a Japanese court.
- Pearl Harbor (2001), which includes a fictionalized version of the raid.
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- Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
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