There’s something to be said for Mervyn LeRoy‘s direction of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (’44) — steady, workmanlike, no surprises but no potholes either. LeRoy always stayed within his safety zone, but he was a good, reliable “house” director. His best film was They Won’t Forget (’37), a Warner Bros. courtroom drama based on the real-life lynching of Leo Frank in 1915.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo was strictly a WWII morale-builder but a better-than-decent one, and a first-rate action film during the final third. You can totally lean on the solid, straightforward performances from Van Johnson (“I lost my ship!”), Robert Walker, Spencer Tracy, Phyllis Thaxter, Robert Mitchum.

I was especially taken by the extra-handsome, perfectly lighted cinematography by Robert Surtees (The Bad and the Beautiful, Ben Hur) and Harold Rosson (The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ In the Rain), and the fleet, finely timed editing by Frank Sullivan. Plus I’d never seen it in HD.

I began watching last night with the idea of being put to sleep. I fast-forwarded through the first half (training, relationships, flyboy camaraderie) but wound up watching the rest. This happens occasionally.