Film #4 in the World War II Marathon!
Screenplay By: Dalton Trumbo
Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy
Buried within over two hours of war cliches there rests a decent movie, but man, those cliches. That’s what I thought while watching Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and that is what I thought immediately after finishing it. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo isn’t a bad movie by any means, it’s certainly a step up from The Rats Of Tobruk, but it’s a movie that fails to move beyond the tropes of its genre.
I guess it’s best to start with the characters, all of which are horribly cliche, and in the case of the loudmouth redneck from Virginia, overacted as well. I wanted to punch the dude from Virginia, or Texas who the hell knows, in the face every time he opened his mouth, that’s how annoying he was. The rest of the characters weren’t annoying, but they were cliche and lacking any real depth.
Most of the cliche nature of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo can be credited to the script and dialogue. It’s painfully obvious and statement driven as opposed to feeling natural or something that any of these people would actually say. The story is never allowed to move off the beaten path, it’s very adherent to its structure. For every scenario or conversation you have a point A, that is followed by point B, then point C, and so on and so forth.
There are also some minor things that perplex me like telling a soldier that he can’t have a video camera at the base, but for the rest of the movie he walks around taping everything he sees. Or the idea of, “Hey, we’re doing top secret stuff, but you’re girl can wander around the base as much as she wants.” This leads into some of my other major concerns, such as the cheap emotional pulls that the films goes for. In the Chinese village the soldiers are informed that the Japanese are coming, but wait, instead of working right now on the evacuation, first we pause to present to you this emotionally touching gift giving moment.
All of the above being true, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo did get some areas down pat. The footage of the flight over Tokyo, especially the dropping of the bombs, is really well done. I felt a charged thrill during those scenes and they were cut together so well that it’s near impossible to distinguish between actual movie footage and stock footage. There’s also a decent bit of symbolism during Ted’s flashback and while he’s on the phone a tree is getting cut down at the same time in real life his leg is being sawed off.
I was most impressed with how Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo handled culture, specifically Asian culture. It is a very ra-ra, let’s go USA movie, but it treats the Chinese and Japanese with respect, and that is odd for a war movie from this time. The film never takes an anti-Japanese stance and it always treats the Chinese as people, not inferior in some way. I very much appreciated that humanitarian take on race relations and not the typical “Asians are bad” stuff that was prevalent around this time.
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is a definite improvement over The Rats Of Tobruk, hopefully this upswing will continue with the next film in the marathon, A Walk In The Sun. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo has its flaws, but it is a well made film that wasn’t hard to get through and was for the most part an enjoyable watch. That’s it for the fourth film in the World War II Marathon, fear the man with the name of Doolittle!