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The USS Sullivans is now anchored in a Naval Park in Buffalo, NY. This
destroyer was named in honor of the Sullivan Brothers who all lost
their life during the battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. After Pearl Harbor
they all enlisted in the Navy with the condition of not being
separated. While serving on the USS Juno they perished together.
Shipmates reported that three of the brothers, when out of harms way,
returned to the burning ship for their brothers when it went under.
When news of this tragic loss was learned, the government instituted
the rule that stands today, no brothers will serve in the same combat
theatre. This was due to the Sullivans.
I saw this movie one night with my mother on late night TV in 1981. Let me tell you, the very memory of the ending of this movie brings me to tears. A mixture of pride and sorrow. Do not hesitate, purchase, and watch this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The five Sullivan brothers had joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor on
the condition that they be allowed to serve on the same ship, a
recruiting gimmick that the pre-World War II Navy had used. All five
were killed when the USS Juneau was sunk by a Japanese submarine during
the Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. The Office of War
Information allowed their loss to be a widely reported story at the
time, presumably because the family's fortitude in the face of this
catastrophe was thought inspirational. (No mention, of course, was made
of the fact that the rest of the Juneau's task force sailed away
without trying to rescue survivors and that less than 10 of the crew
were ultimately saved.) The audience would have gone into the picture
knowing how it must end.
Hollywood chose to treat the Sullivan story not as a war story but as a family portrait of how Americans wanted to feel about themselves. The Sullivans are a working class Irish-American family from Waterloo, Iowa with five sons and a daughter. The father was a railroad freight conductor. They are shown as close knit, hard working, good hearted, religious, loyal, loving, pugnacious and having a strong sense of right and wrong. They get through tough times by sticking together, and the boys learn to stand up for what's right. Given their upbringing, it is inevitably that the Sullivan boys (and by inference all the working class GIs and sailors like them), march down to the recruiting office to join up right after Pearl Harbor. The Navy recruiting officer is the picture of benevolent concern, both when he allows them to serve together and when he delivers the fatal Navy Department telegram to the Sullivan household a year later. Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan and the surviving elder sister take the blow with grief, of course, but also with the stoicism that comes from religion and from not expecting too much out of life. The sister joins the WAVES, and there's a brief coda of the five boys entering a nimbus that suggests the Pearly Gates.
It's a well made, highly professional piece of home front propaganda, but one wordless scene makes it stand out. Thomas Mitchell, who had played Scarlett O'Hara's father, played the father of the Sullivan family as the same kind of tough, cocky little Irishman. Early in the movie, we see the family ritual of his going off to work. As he swings up onto the caboose of the freight train, an honest working man proud to provide for his family, his five boys rush pell mell up the ladder of the railroad water tower to the encircling balcony. There they wave goodbye to him, and he waves back. At the end of the picture, after the mourning was over, Mr. Sullivan goes back to work. As he boards the back of the caboose, he looks up and sees the water tower balcony. It's empty. His knees bend, his shoulders slump, and you can see all the hope and pride drain out of him as the blow finally hits home. The shot has been perfectly foreshadowed, but it's completely unexpected. It's the emotional payoff to which the entire picture had been building up; everything after is just obligatory window dressing.
The Sullivan brothers grew up together in a small town in Iowa. They would eventually join the Navy after Pearl Harbor was attacked and would be killed in action. The story is a true one and heart wrenching to say the least. Thomas Mitchell is perfectly cast as the father. A very young Bobby Driscoll plays little Al, the youngest of the 5 Sullivan boys. Anne Baxter and Ward Bond were magnificent. Get yourself a box of Kleenex for this one folks. It will stay with you for a long time.
This is one of the few movies I've seen that really made me cry. I agree with others who wrote about this and would definitely put it up there with The Best Years of our Lives as one of the great World War II pictures. Saving Private Ryan didn't move me as much as this mainly because we really don't get to know Private Ryan (or his brothers, for that matter). In this movie, we get to know all of the brothers, especially the oldest and the youngest. It did feel a bit like the Waltons in the first hour (were homes really that apple pie in Iowa in the 30s?) But watching the boys come of age and struggle with basic teenage issues, and then watching them enlist, made their fates all the more powerful. Yes, I knew what was going to happen but I was moved all the same. This movie should be required viewing for everyone who adored Saving Private Ryan.
This film is presented as vignettes of the boys at different ages, as if
seen through a mother's loving eyes. It makes your heart particularly
vulnerable to their inevitable fate. Especially poignant to the audiences
of the day, note that it was released in 1944, during some of the darker
days of World War II.
Five brothers DID die as the result of ONE enemy encounter. It was a terrible tragedy. It made one family's sacrifice TOO great. In their honor, there has always been a "USS The Sullivans" afloat. The newly commisioned ship can be seen, along with the "new" skipper (sometimes), on patriotic holidays when the movie is shown. They have him (and the ship) in the "bumpers" between segments. It adds a new dimension and reality to the film.
My younger children always gather round to watch the "Leave it to Beaver" type antics of the brothers growing up. They very much enjoy the "little troublemakers". They DO follow the film and understand what happens at the end. I'm glad they do. It's not lost on them. And we always salute, along with Pop Sullivan, at the end of the movie.....
REST IN PEACE, BOYS...........
A lot of people know the story of the USS Indianapolis that sank at the end of World War II. It was the ship where only 316 of the 1,196 crew survived because there was a delay in looking for them. This film tells the story of the USS Juneau, it is not as well known but its story is terrible as well. Only 10 out of 700 crew survived. This ship is best remembered as the one where the Sullivans died. There has been a change in policy since where brothers are prohibited from being on the same ship. This film does a wonderful job of bringing the Sullivan saga to life. I can imagine the patriotic impact it had when it was shown at the time. I caught it on an old movie channel and I remember the scene that got me was the one at the end where it made out like they were all ascending to heaven.
This film was made during WWII when the outcome was still uncertain. It
served as a strong motivational film for the American theater going crowd
much like "Guadalcanal Diary" and Wake Island" to name just two. Most of
picture concerns the brothers growing up and their strong bond with each
other. The actual story of them serving in the Navy is very small in
relation to the rest of the movie. The spirit of the five brothers is
alive today as the Navy recently named yet another ship after them i.e.
The Sullivans DDG 68. The story would still make for a fine remake using
90's style film making and with the right director be up there with
Private Ryan". Check this film out and look for a small role by the great
character actor Ward Bond whose presence in films always makes a
I lived in Waterloo, Iowa from 1968-73. In that time I drove by the Sullivan home in the North End of Waterloo. Each time I drove by it brought back the scenes depicted in the movie of Waterloo. It also brought back the pain with the Sullivan loss. I had a strange affinity for the area as if every time I drove by I was living the story all over again and with the Sullivans. To this day, the pain of their loss and the infrequent trips back to Waterloo confirm in my heart the deep, deep gratitude I have for the ultimate sacrifice of the five brothers.
If Ward Bond is not remembered for one word in his long career in movies his line in "The Sullivans" should be. "All Five" when he is asked which one it was that was killed in the Pacific. A truly memorable movie by all. Tearjerker? It would rank number one!
I am in my 50's and was raised by a Mother that drug me to movies whether I stood a chance in hell of knowing or understanding what I was watching or not, so over the years I have been exposed to many, many themes, situations and melodramas that should and have given me a skeptical eye to emotional manipulations. That being said: I NEVER fail to cry in the closing minutes of this excellent film.
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