The Sullivans (1944)

111-112 mins | Drama | February 1944

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HISTORY

This film was retitled The Fighting Sullivans two months after its initial release. According to a 4 Apr 1944 HR news item, after the picture failed to attract large audiences, Twentieth Century-Fox executives changed its title, emulating "a successful New Jersey showman with a genius for redundancy." The film is based on the lives of the Sullivan brothers--George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert--who were killed in action during the battle of Guadalcanal in Nov 1942 while serving aboard the cruiser Juneau . George and Francis, who had served a previous tour in the Navy, enlisted with their younger brothers after the attack on Pearl Harbor in order to avenge a lost friend. The brothers obtained special permission to serve together, but after their deaths, for which the entire nation mourned, the Navy officially declared that family members could not serve on the same vessel during wartime. Only ten seamen survived the attack on the Juneau . The brothers' parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Sullivan, traveled extensively after their sons' deaths, visiting defense plants and selling war bonds. On 4 Apr 1943, Mrs. Sullivan christened a destroyer named in honor of her sons, and in Aug 1995, Al's granddaughter christened another destroyer named after the Sullivans.
       A 15 Mar 1943 HR news item announcing producer Sam Jaffe and director Lloyd Bacon's intention to make the film indicated that writer Jules Schermer would also be the picture's producer. According to HR news items, the film was made with the cooperation of the Navy and the Sullivan family. A 12 Jul 1943 HR ... More Less

This film was retitled The Fighting Sullivans two months after its initial release. According to a 4 Apr 1944 HR news item, after the picture failed to attract large audiences, Twentieth Century-Fox executives changed its title, emulating "a successful New Jersey showman with a genius for redundancy." The film is based on the lives of the Sullivan brothers--George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert--who were killed in action during the battle of Guadalcanal in Nov 1942 while serving aboard the cruiser Juneau . George and Francis, who had served a previous tour in the Navy, enlisted with their younger brothers after the attack on Pearl Harbor in order to avenge a lost friend. The brothers obtained special permission to serve together, but after their deaths, for which the entire nation mourned, the Navy officially declared that family members could not serve on the same vessel during wartime. Only ten seamen survived the attack on the Juneau . The brothers' parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Sullivan, traveled extensively after their sons' deaths, visiting defense plants and selling war bonds. On 4 Apr 1943, Mrs. Sullivan christened a destroyer named in honor of her sons, and in Aug 1995, Al's granddaughter christened another destroyer named after the Sullivans.
       A 15 Mar 1943 HR news item announcing producer Sam Jaffe and director Lloyd Bacon's intention to make the film indicated that writer Jules Schermer would also be the picture's producer. According to HR news items, the film was made with the cooperation of the Navy and the Sullivan family. A 12 Jul 1943 HR news item stated that the Sullivans would "share in the proceeds of the picture." Later news items and press releases indicate that Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, their daughter Genevieve and daughter-in-law Katherine Mary, who was Al's widow, were all present during parts of the filming and acted as technical advisors. According to a 28 Oct 1943 HR news item, Jaffe also secured the services of Chaplain William Muenster to supervise the wedding sequence. The news item further stated that in real life, Muenster had officiated at the marriage of Al and Katherine Mary. A studio press release noted that Lt. Charles N. Wang, who was George's superior officer when the Juneau was sunk, would be acting as a technical advisor, along with Guadalcanal veteran Dr. J. A. Wickstrom, of the Marine Corps.
       Due to the shortage of available actors during the war, producers Jaffe and Robert T. Kane conducted an extensive search for the film's leads, and actors considered for parts included Dane Clark, Richard Crane, Hank Patterson and Jimmie Martin. According to a 5 Aug 1943 HR news item, the producers limited the initial tests to fifty feet in order to conserve film, and grouped the actors in fives. Jaffe also announced that he was "combing the ranks of discharged servicemen to play the adult characters, feeling that their military experience [would] give reality to the yarn." Actresses considered for the role of Mrs. Sullivan included Phyllis Povah and Dale Winter. A 27 Sep 1943 HR news item noted that Roger Clark, Sally Yarnell and Gerrie Noonan had been added to the cast, but their participation in the released film has not been confirmed. John Alvin was borrowed from Warner Bros. for the production, which was largely filmed on location in Santa Rosa, CA. A 24 Oct 1943 NYT article reported that by agreement with the Chamber of Commerce, the studio would not employ Santa Rosa residents as extras on the film unless they "carried cards from the Chamber testifying that they had volunteered to help in the harvesting of Santa Rosa's seasonal crops." The production company also had to agree to give at least three days notice for large purchases of food. According to a 9 Nov 1943 HR news item, the producers canceled a location shooting trip to the San Diego naval base when they decided to limit the war scene footage to the sinking of the Juneau , and not include any other scenes of the brothers in uniform. Another Nov 1943 HR news item noted that the filming of the ship's sinking was shot on the first anniversary of the actual event. The picture marked the screen debuts of John Campbell, James Cardwell, Nancy June Robinson, Marvin Davis and Billy Cummings.
       According to the NYT review, Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan attended the film's opening in New York and sold war bonds in the lobby. The Hollywood premiere, which benefitted the Naval Aid Auxiliary, was attended by Juneau officer Lt. Cmdr. Roger O'Neill, according to a LAT article. O'Neill offered a "splendid tribute" to his lost shipmates. The picture received an Academy Award nomination in the Writing (Original Motion Picture Story) category. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
12 Feb 1944.
---
Daily Variety
23 Aug 1943.
---
Daily Variety
3 Feb 44
p. 3.
Film Daily
3 Feb 44
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Mar 43
p. 1, 6
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jul 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jul 43
p. 4, 11
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jul 43
pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jul 43
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jul 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 43
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Aug 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Sep 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 43
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Sep 43
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Sep 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Sep 43
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 43
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 43
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Nov 43
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 44
p. 3, 11
Hollywood Reporter
14 Feb 44
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Feb 44
pp. 6-9.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 44
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 44
p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
24 Feb 1944.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Aug 1995.
---
Motion Picture Daily
3 Feb 44
p. 1, 3
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
5 Feb 44
p. 1741.
New York Times
13 Jan 43
p. 10.
New York Times
5 Apr 43
p. 11.
New York Times
24 Oct 1943.
---
New York Times
10 Feb 44
p. 19.
New York Times
28 May 1944.
---
Variety
9 Feb 44
p. 12
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Dial dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Assoc
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
VISUAL EFFECTS
Special photog eff
SOURCES
MUSIC
"You'll Never Know," music by Harry Warren
"Anchors Aweigh," music by Charles A. Zimmerman.
SONGS
"Who Threw the Overalls in Mistress Murphy's Chowder?" music and lyrics by George L. Giefer.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Fighting Sullivans
Release Date:
February 1944
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 9 February 1944
Los Angeles opening: 23 February 1944
Production Date:
early September--mid November 1943
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
9 February 1944
Copyright Number:
LP12840
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
111-112
Length(in feet):
10,091
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
9650
SYNOPSIS

In the small town of Waterloo, Iowa, Thomas and Alleta Sullivan spend the early years of their married life happily attending the christenings of the latest additions to their Irish-American, Catholic family: George Thomas in 1914, Francis "Frank" Henry in 1916, Joseph Eugene in 1918, Madison "Matt" Abel in 1919 and Albert Leo in 1922. 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. The day before Al's first communion, the youngster persuades Alleta to let him wear his new suit to attend confession. The suit is ruined, however, when the boys, who do everything together, brawl with some neighborhood kids over their new dog, Chiefie. Alleta is dismayed by their conduct, but Father Francis allows Al to take communion after the boys assure him that they bear no grudge against their rivals. Later, the boys get into more mischief when they find a broken-down boat and caulk its holes with mud. The vessel stays afloat until it reaches the middle of a lake, then begins to sink. Chiefie aids in rescuing Al, thereby assuring his place in the family. Upset by Al's near-drowning, Alleta makes her sons promise that they will not set foot in a boat again until they are adults. Later, the youngsters are complaining about fetching wood for Alleta's stove when Tom makes an offhand remark about building a wood box in the kitchen wall. Wanting to help Alleta and save themselves some work, the boys obtain lumber on credit and begin building the wood box. ... +


In the small town of Waterloo, Iowa, Thomas and Alleta Sullivan spend the early years of their married life happily attending the christenings of the latest additions to their Irish-American, Catholic family: George Thomas in 1914, Francis "Frank" Henry in 1916, Joseph Eugene in 1918, Madison "Matt" Abel in 1919 and Albert Leo in 1922. 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. The day before Al's first communion, the youngster persuades Alleta to let him wear his new suit to attend confession. The suit is ruined, however, when the boys, who do everything together, brawl with some neighborhood kids over their new dog, Chiefie. Alleta is dismayed by their conduct, but Father Francis allows Al to take communion after the boys assure him that they bear no grudge against their rivals. Later, the boys get into more mischief when they find a broken-down boat and caulk its holes with mud. The vessel stays afloat until it reaches the middle of a lake, then begins to sink. Chiefie aids in rescuing Al, thereby assuring his place in the family. Upset by Al's near-drowning, Alleta makes her sons promise that they will not set foot in a boat again until they are adults. Later, the youngsters are complaining about fetching wood for Alleta's stove when Tom makes an offhand remark about building a wood box in the kitchen wall. Wanting to help Alleta and save themselves some work, the boys obtain lumber on credit and begin building the wood box. George becomes irritated by Frank's imperious manner, however, and leaves the project. The boys then break a water pipe and the kitchen is flooded. George rushes to help, and when Tom arrives and surveys the damage, he assumes that George, as the eldest, is responsible. Before George can explain their good intentions, Tom slaps him, and the boy runs off. Frank confesses all to Tom, and as the evening wears on, each family member invents an excuse to search for the runaway. George reappears the next morning, and after reconciling with his son, Tom declares that this should teach the Sullivans to stick together. Years later, in 1939, the boys are grown and only Al is still in high school. On the day that George wins a motorcycle race, Al meets Katherine Mary, an only child who lives with her father. Despite their youth, Al and Katherine Mary fall in love, and soon Al shows Gen the engagement ring that he has purchased. Believing that Al is too young for marriage, his brothers tease Katherine Mary when she comes for dinner and convince her that Al has many girl friends. After Katherine Mary leaves in tears and Al sinks into despair, the brothers realize the damage they have done, and with Gen, Tom and Alleta in tow, they apologize to Katherine Mary. 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 family is lolling about on Sunday, 7 December 1941, when they hear a radio report about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The boys realize that one of their friends was on the 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 accompany the others to the recruiting station. The brothers tell Commander Robinson that they want to serve on the same ship, but Robinson states that the Navy can make no such guarantees. The brothers leave, but later, after George receives his draft notice, he writes to the Navy Department and obtains 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 Juneau in the Pacific. The fighting in the Pacific grows more intense as 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, Robinson 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 U.S.S. The Sullivans . As Tom and Alleta watch the ship sail away, Alleta declares, "Tom, our boys are afloat again." +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.