Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, with its sure-fire, take this! title, was #14 at the boxoffice in 1944 (nearly $7,000,000), and raided an Oscar for its superb special effects. It’s the true story of the surprise April 1942 air raid on Japan, where sixteen B-25 bombers, perilously launched off an aircraft carrier, gave a morale-building backhand slap at the enemy after four straight months of humiliating defeat.
Brave as it was, the raid did little damage beyond astounding the Emperor, but in the movie enough of Tokyo gets spectacularly blown sky-high to re-rouse audiences getting weary of conflict. The massive B-29 raids on Japan began within weeks of this movies release, continuing in increasing intensity for nine months, with a vengeful horror that dwarfed anything ever seen, let alone the brief pyrotechnic display shown in this saga.
Van Johnson (recovered from a disfiguring car crash) gets the lead role, and handles it quite well, with can’t-lose backing from Spencer Tracy as Gen. Doolittle. It’s longish at 138 minutes, and first you have to grimace through some requisite sappy love interest with a high-sugar intake from Phyllis Thaxter, some swell-kid business from Robert Walker and other folksy crewmen (the hammy Texan is enough to make you wish the planes had been ordered to hit Fort Worth).
The raid remains exciting classic cinema, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, while the script from Dalton Trumbo isn’t quite as rabid as most “let’s-paste-’em” shows of the time. The Chinese who the flyer’s are rescued by are given adoring portrayal, ironic in view that in just a few more years they’d be demonized Commie fiends.
With Robert Michum, all of 27, getting a leg up toward the big leagues after a whirlwind 23 film appearances in two years. Robert Surtees and Harold Rosson steered the nominated cinematography. Also on hand are Don DeFore, Stephen McNally, Leon Ames, Benson Fong, Alan Napier and for character actor spotters with super-quick radar, Steve Brodie and John Dehner.