The Fighting Sullivans is one of my father’s fondest childhood movie memories. Just after the end of the Second World War my grandmother sent him and his brother to see it as a lesson in brotherly love.
The inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, this true story from World War II centres around five brothers who join the US Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The brothers, whose motto was "We Stick Together," stipulated as a condition of their enlistment that they be permitted to serve on the same ship. In February 1942, the Sullivan brothers were assigned to USS Juneau, a newly commissioned cruiser in New York City bound for the Pacific. Even then, the brothers enjoyed a celebrity status for being the only five members of a family serving simultaneously in one vessel.
Tragically, the Juneau was torpedoed at Guadalcanal, in November of the same year and none of the Sullivan brothers returned home.
Far from a war movie (war scenes account for only five minutes towards the end of the film) the film depicts the boy’s childhood and adolescence in Waterloo, Iowa. It centres on their family relationships, and there are many Leave it to Beaver moments. One of the real problems with the story behind The Fighting Sullivans is that it is true – and one whose final outcome is well known. In fact, even during the war the story of the Sullivan boys was publicised by the American government and often used as a cattle-prod for American patriotism. When the film was first released, many theatres chose not to show it because of the devastating effect the story had on its post-war audience.
However, even with such a well known plot, the film-makers succeed in drawing you in with a well crafted, warm family drama. The film begins when the boys are very young and soon you have forgotten all about the inevitable tragic climax. It is only when the attack on Pearl Harbor is finally revealed does the sense of dread return re-doubled, and the totality of the climax hits you like a sledgehammer. The final, moving scenes are a fitting tribute to families who have suffered loss as a result of armed conflict.
Filmed in 1944, The Fighting Sullivans is presented on a single-sided, single-layer DVD in a screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (full-frame) and is, therefore, not anamorphic.
Although the print used in the transfer of the film is definitely showing its age, this is still a reasonable presentation by Force. Black levels are solid, and although shadow detail is a little low, the image does not suffer from any variations in brightness or contrast throughout it's 2 hour duration.
The print used as the basis for the transfer is quite dirty, especially around the start and end of reels, with many instances of film artefacts. The end of reel markers are also visible. Although these artefacts are mostly small, there are a couple of instances of distractingly large white scratches.
As far as MPEG artefacts are concerned, the image is reasonable, with only a few instances of macro blocking in backgrounds early on and during panning shots. There is a very small amount of telecine wobble that crops up from time to time, but it is hardly noticable and not distracting.
There are two audio selections available, Dolby Digital 2.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 'simulation'. The 5.1 mix is basically identical to the 2.0 - focussed on the front of the soundstage but with a little of the sound mixed to the rear. This gives the soundtrack a little more depth, but does not improve clarity at all. The producers of the disc needen't have bothered.
The soundtrack is the one place where the print is showing it's age, with numerous occasions of hiss, pops, and clicks. Although the sound is never bad enough to cause real problems for ther viewer, it is a shame that this now reference version of the film suffers in this way. I am very surprised that the creators of the 5.1 remix did not at least fix the few volume drops that occur.
The disc itself is reasonably presented, with menus animated with clips from the movie's brief war scenes. The sound from these scenes also echoes behind. There is basically only one extra available, a 'Synopsis' of the film which provides an brief overview of the Sullivan's tragic story.
All in all, this is a reasonable (yet only reasonable) presentation of this classic film. I'm sure the movie has looked and sounded better than it appears here, but I think my dad will still be well pleased.