Monday, April 8, 2013

Off the Cuff Movie Review The Fighting Sullivans

   This biographical film was produced during World War II, and inspired by events that took place earlier in the war. The five Sullivan brothers, George, Frank, Joe, Matt and Al, grew up in the town of Waterloo, Iowa. When the war broke out, they all enlisted in the Navy, and managed to get themselves all assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau. The Juneau was sunk with all hands on 13 November 1942. During the war, a Fletcher-class destroyer, DD537 was launched bearing the name The Sullivans. The Navy changes its policy on assignments as a result of the Sullivan's family's loss, and siblings no longer serve together aboard ship.
     The film spends most of its two-hour run time on the childhood and early adulthood of the Sullivan brothers. As a slice of American life, it is a delightful, funny and touching movie about a big family of boys (with one long-suffering sister) and all their adventures. They get into fights (right outside the church even) with other boys, fight with each other, make up, find and (sort of) repair a rowboat, decide to cut a hole in the kitchen wall for a woodbox and try to smoke corn silk in the shed. Their railroad conductor father takes a firm loving hand in dealing with them, but even he gets pushed too far after one of the boys' escapades. As young adults, living in the late 30's their worries are the same as everyone's: getting and keeping jobs, having enough money, and for the youngest, Al, known as "Small Change", getting a date with a swell girl. Al gets married, despite a sabotage attempt by his brothers, and the whole family takes the new Mrs. Sullivan in as one of their own. When the war breaks out, the older brothers dissuade Al from joining up with them, but his wife convinces him he should go, because all their lives the Sullivans have "stuck together".
     The last we see of the Sullivan boys, four of them are lifting their wounded fifth brother off of his bed, hoping to get him to safety when the abandon ship order is given. Sadly, out of a crew of over 600, only 10 men survived the sinking of the Juneau. The film's final act digresses a little from published history, but not in a way that detracts from the powerful punch of the story. 
       We laughed our way through the Sullivans' childhood and cried a little at the end. This is a movie that is worth watching because it's funny, because it is moving, and because it is simple and true. Thanks be to God for all the men and women who have served in our country's military both in war and in peace. 
Now go rent this movie. That is all. 

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