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Missions That Changed The War: The Doolittle Raid

Release Year:      2010
Studio:      Acorn Media
Format:      Colour/B&W, DVD, NTSC, Widescreen
Rated:      Not Rated
# of Discs/Episodes:      2 / 4
Running Time:      176 min. + bonus
DVD Release Date:      February 19, 2013
Directors:      Scott Guyette, Jon Tennyson
Narrated by:      Gary Sinise
DVD Features:      Interview with Doolittle Raider Edward Saylor; timeline of Doolittle’s life; SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:      10/10

Acorn Media Write-up:
Outraged at the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered his military leaders to find a way to hit back at an enemy whose homeland was beyond the reach of U.S. warplanes. The result was a daring plan to load B-25 bombers on an aircraft carrier, sail within range of Japan, bomb its cities, and then fly on to the safety of China. Only one man was considered up to the task of leading the mission–Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle.

Narrated by Gary Sinise (“Apollo 13”, “CSI: NY”, “Forrest Gump”). THE DOOLITTLE RAID tells the story of one of the most audacious acts of aerial warfare. Through historical footage, maps, expert commentary, and interviews with four crewmen who took part, it recounts a mission that not only raised the spirits of a nation but also changed the outcome of World War II.

BONUS FEATURES: 16-page viewer’s guide with a map; a timeline of Japan’s conquests; articles on FDR’s “date which will live in infamy” speech, Fortress America, B-25s, and aircraft carriers; and an exclusive Q&A with Carroll V. Glines, Doolittle’s official biographer, a timeline of Doolittle’s life, interview with Doolittle Raider Edward Saylor (21 min.).

Jon Ted Wynne Review:
Recently I had occasion to teach a class to some university age students. During this class I brought up the name Winston Churchill. The students knew virtually nothing about this great politician and World War II leader. It reminded me that historical events like World War II —  arguably the single most important event of the 20th-Century — are little-known to many generations of young people today.

That is precisely why DVD releases like the one under consideration here are so important.

MISSIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAR: THE DOOLITTLE RAID is as good as any WWII-era documentary I’ve ever seen and superior to most. It has the perfect blend of narrative, archival footage, interviews both vintage and contemporary, and well-placed and unobtrusive re-enactments. I knew the basics of the story, but the details! Everything from the close calls so many of the 80 volunteers airmen faced to the eccentric touches such as painting a couple of broomsticks black and setting them up to look like a tail gun (the real tail gun having been removed due to issues of weight).

This four episode documentary has no pretensions about its purpose. This is to-the-point, well-balanced, dramatically interesting storytelling of one of the most important U.S. military operations of the Second World War.

There is sufficient examination of Jimmy Doolittle the man to understand what drove him to be the only person considered capable of planning and executing this crucial mission. Doolittle was a great American hero, though not without flaws: he praised the Apartheid system of government in South Africa in the 1960s, for example. Nonetheless it is the portrayal of Doolittle as a real human being that makes his story so compelling. Convinced the mission had failed because all the planes were lost after the raid, Doolittle had no idea what was in store for him or the other raiders if and when they returned home safely.

The program’s sense of authenticity and solid research is anchored in Gary Sinise’s superb narration. Sinise is a worthy contributor to this program. He started The Gary Sinise Foundation several years ago, a charity that supports the work of America’s “defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.” ( His narration is a text book example of how to do documentary narration right.

Also of great interest is the contribution of the handful of surviving Doolittle raiders who, now all in their nineties, give that important first-hand account that benefit all historical documentaries.

THE DOOLITTLE RAID’s four episodes are titled “The Call To War”; “Special Aviation Project Number One”; “The Target Of This Task Force Is Tokyo”; and “The Legacy”. There are surprises in every episode that help make this program one of those rare gems you just can’t turn off.

For those of you who, like me, were familiar with the bombing raid only from the excellent Spencer Tracy film “30 Seconds Over Tokyo”, you’ll be immediately drawn into MISSIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAR: THE DOOLITTLE RAID. It’s war documentary as it should be: informative, enlightening, entertaining and thrilling.