Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
If the current rage for inflated, rah-rah World War II flicks feels off the mark to you, try this riveting, perfectly pitched actioner, made just before the end of the war and packed with great details on the retaliatory attack on Tokyo four months after Pearl Harbor, plus a smidge of romance. Van Johnson stars as "golly gee whiz" pilot Ted Lawson, tapped for a mysterious secret mission by tough, no-nonsense Col. Doolittle (Spencer Tracy) and put through weeks of training so grueling his bomber is nicknamed the "Ruptured Duck." As loyal Mrs. Lawson, Phyllis Thaxter (who decades later played adopted mom Martha Kent to Christopher Reeve's Superman) beams with perfect wifely adoration and concern as she waits dutifully for hubby's return. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy and scripted by Dalton Trumbo from the real Lawson's book on the 1942 attack of Doolittle's Raiders against Tokyo and his crew's harrowing escape through China, the film won a well-deserved Oscar for special effects. The bombers' takeoffs from the pitching decks of carriers are breathtaking, and there are a few spectacular ditches. A very young Robert Mitchum turns up in the supporting cast.