Review: ‘USS Indianapolis: The Legacy’ revisits the remarkable story of a naval tragedy and its survivors

A still from the documentary "USS Indianapolis: The Legacy."
(Tiny Horse)

The July 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis has been called the greatest sea disaster in U.S. naval history. This remarkable World War II story is memorably recounted in the documentary “USS Indianapolis: The Legacy.”

The American warship, following a secret mission in the South Seas, was fatally torpedoed by a Japanese navy sub. Of the nearly 1,200 crewmen on the Indianapolis, only 317 would ultimately survive almost five days stranded without food or drinking water in the sun-bleached, shark-infested Pacific.

Director Sara Vladic, who also co-edited, does a masterful job assembling, in what emerges as a kind of verbal relay race, the recollections of countless interview subjects, including many of the survivors of the fateful incident.

These starkly shot discussions outline the events preceding the assault, the horrors of the strike itself, and how the desperate crewmen stayed alive until they were finally rescued after being randomly spotted by a U.S. patrol flier. (The Navy amazingly had no knowledge of the attack until then.)


The documentary then covers the troubling aftereffects for the seamen as well as for the Indianapolis’ captain, Charles McVay, who was court-martialed for his ship’s sinking, but exonerated in 2001 under then-President Bill Clinton.

Despite the use of strong archival clips and photos, the film, with its ongoing stream of talking heads, can make for static, at times sluggish viewing. Still, this key episode in American military history deserves to be commemorated.


‘USS Indianapolis: The Legacy’


Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Claremont 5, Claremont


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