Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, with Spencer Tracy, 1944 movie poster

Join Us Tuesday, April 20 at 7:00pm on Zoom for a Discussion of the MGM classic, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)!          

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo tells the story of the historic Doolittle Raid, America’s first retaliatory air strike against Japan, four months after the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, who was promoted two ranks, to Brigadier General, the day after the raid.

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy (Little Women/Madame Curie/Random Harvest)

Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo (one of blacklisted Hollywood Ten—wrote under pseudonym—Roman Holiday/Exodus/Spartacus—2015 movie Trumbo with Bryan Cranston received Best Actor nomination)

Based on book Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1943) by Capt. Ted W. Lawson and Robert Considine, first serialized in Collier’s

Starring Van Johnson, Robert Walker, Spencer Tracy

Production by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date November 15, 1944

Running time 138 minutes

Budget $2.9 million

Box office $6.2 million


  • One of 4 movies made about Doolittle’s Raid: Destination Tokyo, The Purple Heart, and 44 Bombardier. Thirty Seconds is the most accurate and least fictionalized—The production crew worked closely with Lawson.
  • Van Johnson—Johnson starred in several war films including A Guy Named Joe. He is the boy next door type. He was seriously injured in an automobile accident while filming A Guy Named Joe. The scars we see on his face in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo were real. Ted Lawson sustained even more serious wounds to his face in the actual raid and landing.
  • Others you will recognize—Spencer Tracy, Robert Mitchum, Robert Walker, Phyllis Thaxter, Don DeFore (we know him from Hazel)
  • Won an Academy Award for Special Effects. What do you think is so distinguished about the special effects?
  • Nominated for an Academy Award for Black and White Cinematography
  • What is the focus of the first half of the movie? What are the filmmakers trying to do?
  • This film was made to be a morale booster. What are some of the scenes that ‘lift the American spirit?’ Name some other movies that were morale boosters.
  • What do you see as the most memorable scenes in the movie?
  • Other movies from 1944—Going My Way/Meet Me in St. Louis/Gaslight/Since You Went Away (about the home front) The Seventh Cross—set in Nazi Germany)