Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 1944. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, based on the book by Ted W. Lawson, Robert Considine. Cinematography by Harold Rosson, Robert Surtees. Produced by Sam Zimbalist. Music by Herbert Stothart. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse. Costume Design by Irene. Film Editing by Frank Sullivan. Academy Awards 1944.
Spencer Tracy makes a brief appearance as real-life Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, who not long before this film’s production oversaw an operation to drop bombs over Japan in retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Van Johnson is the pilot of the Ruptured Duck, enjoying his last few days with his devoted wife (Phyllis Thaxter in a cardboard performance) before being sent to the Pacific to wait with his crew on an aircraft carrier for their orders. After completing their mission, Johnson and scattered survivors crash-land on the Chinese coast where grateful locals help them recuperate and stay on the move to avoid the encroaching Japanese army that is taking over poor villages. Beautiful cinematography and impressive effects work puts the audience into some very convincing battle situations, aided by Dalton Trumbo’s intelligent dialogue that helps the obvious propagandizing go down smoothly. Anti-Japanese sentiment is kept to a surprising (relative) minimum considering the subject matter, there’s none of the vicious stereotyping common to films made before the war’s end and even a gracious acknowledgement of regret over civilian casualties (although there are, of course, civilian casualties). Mervyn LeRoy is always a better producer than director and can’t keep the film’s three weighty acts afloat as he lurches between movements, making a film that is exciting at some points and a slog to get through at others.