On The Beach

1959, Movie, NR, 133 mins

Review

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Based on Nevil Shute's popular novel, this flawed but moving end-of-the-world drama is set in Australia in 1964, after nuclear war has eliminated life in the northern hemisphere. While the folks down under await the nuclear fallout that will eventually kill them, the US Sawfish, a submarine commanded by Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck), ventures to California, only to learn that the radio signal still being transmitted from San Diego is being produced by a soda bottle--everyone at home is dead (dramatically reinforced by some extraordinary shots of a deserted San Francisco). Back in Australia, the principal characters deal with their imminent deaths in their own way: scientist Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire) enters and wins an auto race, then asphyxiates himself; Australian naval officer Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) and his wife, Mary (Donna Anderson), take their child's and their own lives; good-time girl Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner) tries to drink her fears away, then falls for Towers, who eventually returns with his crew to the US to die at home. Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, this unremittingly bleak message film was intended to have a big impact and premiered simultaneously in 18 cities on all seven continents. And though it occasionally goes over the top with its melodrama and lacks some technical credibility, ON THE BEACH remains a powerful, well-acted, deftly photographed film in the tradition of THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL; FAIL SAFE; DR. STRANGELOVE; and TESTAMENT. Its effective use of "Waltzing Matilda" also contributed to making that most Australian of songs a hit in the US. leave a comment

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