US Release Date: 12-31-1943
Directed by: Delmer Daves
- Cary Grant, as
- Capt. Cassidy
- John Garfield, as
- Alan Hale, as
- Cookie Wainwright
- John Ridgely, as
- Reserve Officer Raymond
- Dane Clark, as
- Tin Can
- Warner Anderson, as
- Andy, Executive officer
- William Prince, as
- Robert Hutton, as
- Tommy Adams
- John Forsythe, as
- Bill Kennedy as
- Torpedo gunnery officer
Cary Grant in Destination Tokyo.
Many films made during the second world war could be considered outright propaganda. Hollywood's contribution to the war was to make patriot, pro-American movies. Hollywood was nothing then like it is today, politically speaking. Destination Tokyo is one of the most thinly disguised as entertainment, propaganda films ever made.
Long before he captained a pink submarine in Operation Petticoat, Grant was captain of the U S S Copperfish. It's assignment is to sneak into Tokyo bay and spy on the Japanese defenses for the first Bombing of Japan. It has a few action scenes along the way and the movie ends after a tense escape through mine infested waters, while depth charges are exploding all around the Copperfish. The plot is meaningless as the entire point of this movie is to inspire pride in its, then, war weary audience.
The movie starts on Christmas. All of the men are excited. Some sing Christmas carols. The men are all stereotypical red blooded white American men. There is the new kid, the veteran, the Lothario, the family man. There is even an atheist, who of course changes his religious belief before the movie is over.
The movie is packed with scenes of the men just talking. They talk about religion and death, "If we got conked off, you figure we'd see our folks in the here-after?" The new kid asks the atheist. They talk about girls and sex, "She was built for speed, but like I said, kinda compact too, like a submarine." They talk about the evil Japanese. They discuss how the Japanese only make $7 a week. They talk about how they do not love their women. Grant has some of the most over the top speeches. "There's lots of Mikes dying right now. And a lot more Mikes will die. Until we wipe out a system that puts daggers in the hands of five-year-old children." He says, referring to the Japanese, who supposedly taught their kids to kill at young ages. In another groan inducing speech he uses roller skates as symbolism for freedom.
Grant's charm never has many moments to truly shine. He is too busy talking or dreaming about his family back home or making political statements. His best line is when he gets his hands on the nose of an unexploded bomb dropped from a Japanese plane, that landed on the Copperfish. He carries the part into a compartment full of men, holds it up and says with disgust, "It has 'made in the USA' stamped on it. The appeasers contribution to the war effort."
If all of that was not enough, Destination Tokyo has a soundtrack sure to get your patriotic heart swelling. Besides the two religious Christmas carols, this movie has Till the Clouds Roll By, which drips of sentimentality. Another scene has Home on the Range playing in the background. The final scene is backed by Oh Beautiful.
I am as patriotic as they come, but this movie is too much. The propaganda outweighs the entertainment. Destination Tokyo is now valuable only as an example of how Hollywood once supported this country in time of need instead of trying to rise above it with arrogant aplomb.
Cary Grant in a tense moment.
Some blatant propaganda and a couple of overcooked speeches mar this otherwise entertaining movie. At two hours and fifteen minutes the ham-fisted patriotism in some scenes should have been trimmed. Even with these flaws it remains a pretty damn good, old-fashioned war picture.
The story is a good one. Cary Grant is the captain leading a seasoned submarine crew, along with a couple of new recruits, out on its 6th patrol. Mission secret: destination Tokyo. They set off from San Francisco Bay heading North to the Aleutian Islands where they rendezvous with a soldier who speaks fluent Japanese and who grew up in Tokyo. They experience their first battle in the arctic setting.
The second act brings them to Tokyo Bay for the mission that Eric summarized above. Most WWII movies set in the Pacific don’t take place on Japan itself. The fact that three soldiers from the sub actually go on shore outside of Tokyo really adds to the sense of danger. The tension is fairly high throughout the entire movie building to the climactic battle.
And it also has some well timed humor mostly in the form of coded sex talk. My favorite line was when John Garfield as Wolf is telling his shipmates about a dame he met in San Francisco. “The minute I saw her, I says up periscope.” In another scene two sailors coolly bet on whether the next depth charge will explode on the bow or stern side of the sub.
The cast is led by Cary Grant and John Garfield but like most war movies it is an ensemble piece. Alan Hale is the kindhearted but crotchety old sea cook. A very young John Forsythe plays a sailor. And I was pleasantly surprised to see the name Bill Kennedy in the credits. As a kid I would watch him on WKBD channel 50 from Detroit. He hosted a classic movie program called Bill Kennedy at the Movies on Saturday afternoons.
Eric, I see your point about the propaganda but I don’t think it ruins the movie at all. Aside from those few speeches that you mentioned the rest of it at least makes sense in the context of the story and the characters. I don’t really think you can argue, for example, that it is propagandist to sing Christmas carols on Christmas.
Cary Grant in uniform for Destination Tokyo.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the gung-ho, pro-American, damn dirty Japs attitude in the script is that Destination Tokyo was written by Albert Matz, one of the famous Hollywood 10 who would be blacklisted by Hollywood after appearing before the House Committee on Un-American Activities just 4 years after this movie was released. This is a script deemed so accurate by the US Navy that they would use the movie as a training aid for new submarine crews and its author would be persecuted for being a communist.
Knowing this before watching, I paid attention to see if I could detect any socialist or communist subtext. There are a couple of lines that by a stretch of the imagination could be interpreted that way. The line Eric mentions about 'made in the USA', could be viewed as a condemnation of capitalism where to make money some American company sold arms to the enemy. In another scene someone mentions that Japan doesn't have labor unions, with the implication being that it's worse off because of it. I thought I was on to something when one of the characters admits to being an atheist, but then as Eric mentioned, by the end he turns into a believer. The truth is though, it's very difficult to believe that the man who wrote this script felt anything but love for his country, despite being a communist. You can read his testimony online, along with the testimony of the one time president of the Screen Actor's Guild, Ronald Reagan.
I actually had a bigger problem with the length and the pacing of the film than I did with the obvious and sometimes over-the-top patriotic dialogue. The details of the operation of the submarine may have been accurate, but they aren't needed for the story and should have been trimmed. You could easily chop out fifteen minutes without removing a single plot point.
Normally I prefer Grant in lighter roles, but he's quite good here as the very serious sub Captain. He makes a very convincing leader and he holds the ensemble together. The rest of the cast is good, with Hale and Garfield providing the comic relief, but it works best when it keeps Grant front and center.
I agree with Patrick that the tension remains high in several scenes. The highlight of the story is when the submarine must sneak into Tokyo harbor by following in the wake of a Japanese ship. And as both of my brothers mentioned, the final battle scene is also well done. The claustrophobia inherent in any submarine story definitely works in the movie's favor.
Having watched a few classic World War II movies recently, I find the difference in movies set in Europe and those set in the Pacific to be interesting. Where the Germans could be shown to be cruel and sadistic, the Japanese were often portrayed as subhuman caricatures. They are described here as training their children from the age of 5 to be murderers and not even having a word for romantic love in their language.
Given the staunch pro-American attitude in the script I have to believe anyone watching this when it was released would have been amazed to learn the fate of its author.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures (1943)