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With: Anne Baxter, Thomas Mitchell, Selena Royle, Edward Ryan, Trudy Marshall, John Campbell, James Cardwell, John Alvin, George Offerman Jr., Roy Roberts, Ward Bond
Written by: Mary C. McCall Jr., based on a story by Edward Doherty, Jules Schermer
Directed by: Lloyd Bacon
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 112
Date: 02/03/1944
IMDB

The Fighting Sullivans (1944)

3 Stars (out of 4)

O Brothers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Lloyd Bacon, a director best known for helming the Busby Berkeley musicals 42nd Street and Footlight Parade (both 1933), directed this WWII favorite, a sentimental but well-balanced "true story" of five brothers. The film's first hour or so deals with the childhood of the five boys and the various forms of mischief they conjure, from scuffing their Sunday best to busting a hole through the kitchen wall. Then, as young adults, the youngest, Al Sullivan (Edward Ryan) falls for and marries Katherine Mary (a radiant Anne Baxter). When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in 1941, all five Sullivans enlist in the Navy and request to serve on the same ship. While The Fighting Sullivans is clearly propaganda, it quickly wins our attention with its laconic, episodic storytelling; the news of Pearl Harbor doesn't come until about 80 minutes in, and the actual war footage only encompasses the final 10 minutes. Ultimately, it works as a warm, weepie family drama, not unlike I Remember Mama. Thomas Mitchell (best known as "Uncle Billy" in It's a Wonderful Life) gives a terrific performance as the gruff, yet tender Irish father, and Selena Royle matches him as the mother. Ward Bond appears in a small role as a Navy recruiter.

DVD Details: The DVD box claims that this story "inspired Saving Private Ryan," though since the stories are only vaguely similar, I'm not quite sure how. (Unless they mean that Spielberg watched the movie while preparing to make Saving Private Ryan.) However, VCI Entertainment has released a very impressive DVD package, on a par with Chu Chin Chow. This 2-disc set comes with tons of information about the real Sullivans -- including a letter from President Roosevelt -- as well as a photo gallery and actor bios. There's a trailer, but it appears to be a homemade one, as opposed to the original theatrical one. This disc also marks the first time VCI has used English subtitles for the hearing impaired, but for some reason, they're red, and they were virtually unreadable on my smaller TV set (they worked fine on my bigger one). The transfer isn't quite as sharp as some of the big studio DVDs of movies from the same era, but it's perfectly acceptable.

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