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Col. James Doolittle on the "necessary" killing of civilians in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)

by Phil Ethington

Spencer Tracy portrays Lt. Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle, on the U.S.S Hornet, giving a speech to the B-25 Bomber crews about the "necessary killing" of civilians in the forthcoming raid on Tokyo. Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. This scene in M-G-M's Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (Released November 1944, just when the massive US Army Air Force B-29 incediary raids on Tokyo and other Japanese cities began) is based on the original text by one of the mission's pilots, Capt. Ted W. Lawson. Lawson's autobiographical account was first published in Collier's Magazine, serialized in the 22 and 29 May, and 5 June issues. Doolittle's speech, seen here performed by Spencer Tracy, is taken nearly verbatim from Lawson's original book manuscript, but that same passage was cut by Army and Navy censors before it went to Collier's for publication. Dalton Trumbo appears to be responsible for restoring the speech after its suppression from the Collier's article, because he included it in all of his treatments and drafts of the screenplay, working from Lawson's book manuscript. The fact that it remained in the final script, was performed, and not cut from the final movie release, indicates that the War Department wanted this message to be included in a film that was very carefully planned both by M-G-M and the War Department. Note that the speech as portrayed here is claimed by Lawson actually to have taken place during a discussion of the incendiaries to be loaded on the B-25s. Lawson recounts it as a spontaneous commentary by Doolittle during a staff meeting, not as a set-piece speech as it is portrayed here, during a all-crew meeting. That alteration by Dalton Trumbo and director Mervyn LeRoy is not, it seems, a significant alteration. Lawson's public claim that Doolittle said these words to a group of officers and crew, and the willingness of the War Department for the US public to hear them, in late 1944, are the crucial facts tob e considered.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (M-G-M, 1944). Doolittle speech on killing civilians

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Spencer Tracy portrays Lt. Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle, on the U.S.S Hornet, giving a speech to the B-25 Bomber crews about the "necessary killing" of civilians in the forthcoming raid on Tokyo. Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo.

from Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (M-G-M, 1944) (1944)
Creator: M-G-M
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Posted by Phil Ethington
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