The Fighting Sullivans (1944) starring Anne Baxter, Thomas Mitchell, Selena Royle
There are a great many positive things to say about The Fighting Sullivans. It’s set against the backdrop of World War II. But at it’s heart it’s the story of a loving Irish Catholic family. As they raise five young boys and a daughter. Five very energetic, healthy, American boys, whose childhood the audience gets to share. As well as when they become young men, and volunteer for service in the Navy shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The extended childhood scenes remind the audience of their own childhoods. From the stern father dealing with his sons’ experimenting with smoking — by having them smoke cigars. To the boys getting into good-natured fights with other neighborhood children. And building a rickety boat that floats on a pond. Although it’s to be hoped that the audience never had to contend with children who cut into the kitchen and damaged the plumbing. In an attempt to build a wood shed for the family, and attach it to the house.
It’s one of the most human moments, when the father overreacts to this. He blames the oldest son, who was completely innocent. Most people haven’t had their children go to that extreme. But every parent can empathize with accidentally blaming the wrong child. And the stubbornness of both father and child threaten to cause great harm to the family, only to have the mother intervene.
The jump to the children’s young adulthood is sudden, but not jarring. We recognize them as they’re starting their own lives. Including the youngest falling in love, courting, and nearly having his romance broken by his brothers’ joke. This tale of Americana is interrupted by World War II, and the boys enlisting — and the tragedy that comes after.
In all, The Fighting Sullivans is a wonderful film that I rate a rare 5 stars. I first saw it over 30 years ago, and it’s just as powerful now as it was then.
Cast of characters
- Anne Baxter (All About Eve, O. Henry’s Full House) … Katherine Mary Sullivan
- Thomas Mitchell (It’s a Wonderful Life, Riptide) … Mr. Thomas F. Sullivan
- Selena Royle … Mrs. Alleta Sullivan
- Edward Ryan (It Happened on 5th Avenue) … Albert Leo ‘Al’ Sullivan
- Trudy Marshall (The Dancing Masters) … Genevieve ‘Gen’ Sullivan
- John Campbell … Francis Henry ‘Frank’ Sullivan
- James Cardwell … George Thomas Sullivan
- John Alvin (Somewhere in Time, The Beast with Five Fingers) … Madison Abel ‘Matt’ Sullivan
- George Offerman Jr. … Joesph Eugene ‘Joe’ Sullivan
- Roy Roberts (My Darling Clementine) … Father Francis
- Ward Bond (It‘s a Wonderful Life, The Quiet Man) … Lt. Cmdr. Robinson
Editorial review of The Fighting Sullivans courtesy of Amazon.com
The movie that inspired “Saving Private Ryan.” It is the true story of five brothers who fought and died together when their ship, the American cruiser Juneau, was sunk in the South Pacific during World War II. The Fighting Sullivans is something more than a worthy tribute to a pair of small town parents and the five sons they lost when the Juneau blew up in a battle off Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942. It is a heartwarming slice of Americana that will fill in the background of any number of Americans on the fighting front. The audience’s awareness of the news in store for the Sullivan family adds considerably to the film’s effect. The Fighting Sullivans generates emotion strictly on its own terms and without bidding for tears.