Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Fighting Sullivans (1944)

The Fighting Sullivans (1944), which is being broadcast on TCM at 1:30pm ET today (3/21/09) is based on the real life heroic tragedy of five Iowa-born brothers who enlisted in the Navy together after Pearl Harbor and were all assigned to the USS Juneau.The brothers had reportedly stipulated that they serve together when they enlisted.

In November, 1942 during the Battle of Guadacanal, George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan perished together, along with 700 others, wiping out a generation of a family and changing military policy from then on when it came to assigning relatives to one theater of operations, (though, based on a number of fathers and sons and spouses recently assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan, that policy has eased in recent years).

While Thomas Mitchell as their father is deeply touching and Selena Royle as their mother is quite effective as well, the exaltation of such a waste of life, however noble, has always made me quite queasy, even as I feel compassion for the characters and respect for their self-sacrifice. I suspect that it is hard for me to watch from a present day perspective due to the subsequent wars that America has chosen to be involved in, and should be viewed as a heartfelt piece of propaganda, as well as a document reflecting its time. The film's power as a personal story may be overshadowed by the fact that the brothers were lost at a time when it was by no means clear that the Allies would win the war. As a movie directed by journeyman Lloyd Bacon, the film follows the boys as they grow up, the story rarely rises above the conventional, but, in the tragic scene in which the father played by the always believable Mitchell asks, with his voice cracking with pain as he comprehends the truth, “…all five?” remains one of the most powerful in American film history.
Not a movie guaranteed to make you appreciate war's glory, thank God, but unforgettable. This movie is available on DVD in a 2 disc commemorative set detailed here and is also still on the secondary market in VHS form, which may be readily found for purchase on the internet.
A Letter from Mrs. Aletta Sullivan

A Reply from Franklin Roosevelt

An article about the commissioning of the destroyer, the U.S.S. Sullivan in 1997.

The Fighting Sullivans (1944)
directed by Lloyd Bacon

(For complete cast and crew, please click here)

Anne Baxter as Katherine Mary Sullivan
Thomas Mitchell as Mr. Thomas F. Sullivan
Selena Royle as Mrs. Alleta Sullivan
Edward Ryan as Albert Leo 'Al' Sullivan
Trudy Marshall as Genevieve 'Gen' Sullivan
John Campbell as Francis Henry 'Frank' Sullivan
James Cardwell as George Thomas Sullivan
John Alvin as Madison Abel 'Matt' Sullivan
George Offerman Jr. as Joesph Eugene 'Joe' Sullivan
Roy Roberts as Father Francis
Ward Bond as Lt. Cmdr. Robinson

Below is a montage in tribute to this film and the five young men who lived and perished together:


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