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The Fighting Sullivans
aka The Sullivans
File:The Fighting Sullivans.jpg
DVD cover of The Fighting Sullivans Commemorative Edition
Directed byLloyd Bacon
Written byEdward Doherty
Mary C. McCall Jr.
Jules Schermer
Produced bySam Jaffe
Robert Kane
StarringAnne Baxter
Thomas Mitchell
Selena Royle
Edward Ryan
Trudy Marshall
John Campbell
James Cardwell
John Alvin
George Offerman Jr.
CinematographyLucien N. Andriot
Edited byLouis R. Loeffler
Music byCyril J. Mockridge
Distributed byTwentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation (1944) (USA) (original theatrical distributor)
Realart Pictures Inc. (1951) (USA) (theatrical re-release)
Crystal Pictures Inc. (1956) (USA) (theatrical re-release)
Release date
  • February 3, 1944 (1944-02-03)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office2.429,684 admissions (France)[1]
$1 million (US rentals)[2]

The Fighting Sullivans, originally released as The Sullivans, is a 1944 American biographical war film directed by Lloyd Bacon and written by Edward Doherty, Mary C. McCall Jr., and Jules Schermer. It was nominated for a now-discontinued Academy Award for Best Story.

The story follows the lives of the five Irish-American Sullivan brothers, who grew up in Iowa during the days of the Great Depression and served together in the United States Navy during World War II. Their eventual deaths in the Pacific theater aboard the light cruiser USS Juneau (sunk on November 13, 1942 during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal) are also chronicled in this film, which is based on the brothers' true life story.[3]


The Irish-American, Catholic Sullivan brothers are introduced through a progression of baptisms: George Thomas in 1914, Francis "Frank" Henry in 1916, Joseph Eugene in 1918, Madison "Matt" Abel in 1919, and Albert Leo in 1922 in their hometown of Waterloo, Iowa. There is also sister Genevieve, nicknamed "Gen", making the Sullivans a happy family of eight. Based on the apparent ages of the boys, the first part of the plot occurs in the late 1920s. As the boys grow, they are doted upon by their mother and sister Genevieve and given stern but loving guidance by their father, who is a railroad freight conductor. Each day, the boys climb the water tower by the tracks and wave to their father as he passes by on the train. The brothers are shown getting into their fair share of trouble growing up: a fight, a near drowning (after which their mother makes them promise not to set foot on a boat again until they are adults), and accidentally flooding the kitchen.

By 1939, only Al is still in high school. On the day that George wins a motorcycle race, Al meets Katherine Mary, (played by Anne Baxter) an only child who lives with her father. Despite their youth, Al and Katherine Mary fall in love. Believing that Al is too young, his brothers nearly break the couple up, but realize what they have done and apologize. Soon after, Katherine Mary and Al are married, and ten months later, are expecting a baby. Al is fired for taking the afternoon off to escort his wife to the doctor, but his brothers vow to help them out.

Later, months after little Jimmy has been welcomed into the family, the Sullivans are relaxing on a Sunday—December 7, 1941. They hear about the attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio. The boys realize that one of their friends, Bill Bascom (Bill Ball in real life), was on the USS Arizona and resolve to join the Navy to avenge him. Al decides that he cannot go with his brothers, due to his family responsibilities, but when Katherine Mary sees his despondent face, she tells him to go with the others to the recruiting station. The brothers insist that they serve on the same ship, but the recruiter (played by Ward Bond) states that the Navy can make no such guarantees. The brothers leave, but later, George receives his draft notice, and writes to the Navy Department, obtaining official permission for the boys to serve together.

Later, Tom, Alleta, and Katherine Mary eagerly await letters from their loved ones, who are serving aboard the USS Juneau in the Pacific. A battle rages off the Solomon Islands, and one day, the Juneau is hit. Four of the brothers find each other, then realize that George is below in sick bay. They rush down to get him, and when George insists they leave him behind, Al replies, "We can't go swimming without you."

Soon after, the same recruiter from before visits the Sullivan home and tells Katherine Mary, Tom, Alleta, and Gen that all five of the brothers were killed in action. Stunned, Tom goes to work and salutes the water tower on which his sons used to stand and wave to him. Sometime later, Tom, Katherine Mary, and Gen, who has joined the WAVES, watch with pride while Alleta christens a new destroyer, the USS The Sullivans. As Tom and Alleta watch the ship sail away, Alleta declares, "Tom, our boys are afloat again."

In all actuality, only Francis (Frank), Joseph (Joe), and Madison (Matt) went down with the ship when it sank. George and Al managed to make it to a life boat. Al died the next day. George went mad with the grief of losing his brothers, and four or five days later, he slipped quietly out of the raft, never to be seen again.


  • Anne Baxter as Katherine Mary Sullivan
  • Thomas Mitchell as Mr. Thomas F. Sullivan, the father
  • Selena Royle as Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, the mother
  • Edward Ryan as Albert Leo Sullivan
  • Trudy Marshall as Genevieve Sullivan
  • John Campbell as Francis Henry Sullivan
  • James Cardwell as George Thomas Sullivan
  • John Alvin as Madison Abel Sullivan
  • George Offerman, Jr. as Joseph Eugene Sullivan
  • Roy Roberts as Father Francis
  • Ward Bond as Lieutenant Commander Robinson
  • Bobby Driscoll as young Albert Sullivan

See also[]

  • List of American films of 1944

Further reading[]

  • The Fighting Sullivans: How Hollywood and the Military Make Heroes by Bruce Kuklick, 2016, University Press of Kansas


External links[]

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