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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Spoilers) A nuclear war has wiped out the northern hemisphere and the
Australians are waiting for the radioactive fallout to make it to the
southern hemisphere, bringing certain death. They have five months.
I have seen several movies where I have developed a bond with the main character only to have him die in the last reel. But I have never seen a movie like this where I know from the beginning that everyone will die. This setup establishes empathy for most all of the characters. In life it is hard to be too harsh in your feelings for someone you know will soon die.
Not sure that things would transpire quite like what is shown (the Aussies are presented as more well behaved than might be expected), but there is a lot of truth to be had. Gregory Peck plays Dwight Towers, an American submarine commander who was at sea for the nuclear conflagration and whose sub has made it to Australia as one of the remaining safe places. For a long time Towers speaks of his wife and children as if they were still alive. This struck me as a quite believable reaction. Even when you are at the side of a loved one in death it takes a goodly amount of time to believe it.
How the Australian people react to their plight is interesting. Anthony Perkins plays Peter Holmes, a Lieutenant in the Australian Navy, and, while his wife is in total denial, Holmes' approach is rational. His reaction seems to be, "OK, we know what is coming, how best to deal with it." Holmes' situation makes you ask just how you would deal with it. When the fatal sickness comes, could you euthanize your child?
Fred Astair plays Julian Osborne, a scientist who participated in the development of the atom bomb. When asked who was responsible for the war, his first response is "Einstein." Then he analyzes how it probably did start, with an overly anxious response to a blip on a radar screen. Though the threat of nuclear annihilation is not now what it was in the 1950s, the chance of an accidental exchange, or a terrorist attack triggering such an event, has a non-zero probability. This movie will have more of an impact on those who lived through the height of the cold war when there were bomb shelter lots selling a variety of bomb shelters in the style of used car lots, and the Cuban missile standoff was played on TV like a sporting event, "Here come the Soviet ships, will they turn back, or will we have nuclear war?"
Cultural inertia is a strong force and early on much of Australian society continues to function as if nothing was going to happen--a kind of global denial reflective of the personal reactions. The conscious mind rejects contemplation of its non-existence, and even more so the non-existence of all conscious minds. As time wears on some people engage in risky behavior, others seek love before the end, while others take solace in drink and revelry.
A moving scene has Tower's crew voting to sail back to the United States to die in their home country, a touching and understandable desire. I found the saddest scenes to be the ones that had an evangelist speaking to a public gathering invoking God to help in understanding and guidance. In but a short time the whole concept of God would cease to have any meaning.
There are many fine qualities here in addition to a compelling and troubling story. The black and white photography is well done. The interior and exterior shots of the submarine seemed realistic--there must have been a knowledgeable consultant on board for the filming of those scenes.
The casting is close to perfect. This is one of Gregory Pack's best performances and the chemistry between him and Ava Gardner seemed real. Seeing Fred Astair in a dramatic role was a surprise, but his performance is most impressive. I saw this movie in its original release and it is Astair's performance that I remember the best. If Fred had not been the supreme dancer, he could have had a career as an actor. Anthony Perkins plays Holmes with straightforward efficiency that he is perfectly suited for.
And the music? You will never listen to "Waltzing Matilda" in quite the same way ever again.
Read the book just recently and decided to watch the movie on TCM. Thought it was a very powerful movie. By the last rendition of Waltzing Matilda, the overall sadness of the movie got to me. Great performances by Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. According to TCM, Ava wore no makeup in the film,since director Stanley Kramer thought no one in this situation would. While viewing the early rushes of the film. Kramer thought Ava was cheating, since she still looked so beautiful. He confronted her at a dinner. She asked Kramer what he thought of her makeup that evening and he replied that it was very becoming. She then took his hand and rubbed it along the contours of her face to show him that even off camera, she was not wearing any makeup. Humanity was portrayed with a lot of dignity. That's the one thing I probably think would not be true if the events of the movie occurred in the present. Let's hope we never get to find out if I'm right.
Nuclear war has devastated the planet. All life in the Northern
hemisphere has been extinguished and the last remaining pockets of
humanity gather in an idyllic community on the Australian coast to
await the radioactive wind sweeping down to wring the last fragile
gasps of breath from the world. Humanity is doomed. Finished. The
nuclear arms race has reached a final, terrifying climax and do you
know what the most startling thing about it is? Just how good an actor
Fred Astaire really was...
In this adaptation of Nevil Shute's novel, Astaire throws off the dancing shoes, says "so long" to Ginger Rogers and plays a bewildered, aging scientist using the last days of mankind to live out his boyhood fantasies of life as a race car driver, while ruminating on the self-destructive tendency of our species that has finally driven us to extinction. Disillusioned, sad and yet maybe even revelling in the carefree abandon that imminent death offers, Astaire is undoubtedly the best thing about this movie, which is high praise considering some of the competition. Gregory Peck especially shines as Captain Dwight Towers, leader of an American submarine crew who find their way down under. Towers, forced to leave his wife and child behind in the USA has to face the growing realisation that they are dead and there is nothing he can do to save them. He is ably supported by Ava Gardner as a lonely alcoholic desperate to find love in what time she has left and Anthony Perkins as a committed family man, who must face up to the possibility that he will have to poison his own wife and baby in order to be a 'good father.'
As you can probably guess then, On the Beach is not a cheerful film. In fact, it's harder to imagine a grimmer opus of despair and you definitely have to be in a certain frame of mind in order to watch it. Bar one barnstorming stock car race which sees automobiles careening off the track recklessly, spinning around and exploding, it's a very slow paced movie, so it's a tremendous credit to the writers involved that two hours of people pondering the fragility of life and everything they did not accomplish doesn't get boring. It is still very much a product of the time though and more cynical audiences might find it difficult to believe that society will keep performing everyday functions right up until the end and not degenerate into a chaotic, panicking mess.
That said, On The Beach is still an immensely powerful film. The message resonates even today and in terms of capturing the paranoia and pessimism of the 1950s, it does so with far greater effect than any of the so-called metaphorical science fiction films filled with giant, radioactive ants and rampaging aliens that appeared in cinemas at the same time. The script is terrific and while the pacing may be a bit slow, the cast are all running on full steam throughout. The scene where Perkins explains the effects of radiation poisoning in particular is arguably the most harrowing anti-nuclear message that film has ever provided. And if it makes you shudder watching it in this day and age, imagine what it must have felt like back in 1959, when the shadow of the bomb loomed large overheard.
This film presents a unique perspective on the consequences of nuclear war. By setting the action in Australia, the film presents the perspective of the innocent bystander - which most of us feel ourselves to be. The trip to San Francisco to search for the source of a radio signal symbolizes the hope of the hopeless. This film is a period piece from the Cold War era, but it is timeless in its ability to evoke our feelings about our own personal futures.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is probably one of my favourite movies. I've read recently that
the author Neville Shutte was very unhappy with the fact that in the
movie the two lead characters Dwight and Moira consummated their
relationship. In the novel they did not. To me Both Kramer and Shutte
are both correct. The movie would not have been nearly so powerful
without that wonderful scene in the cabin with the tenor singing in the
background. Dwight surrendering to Moira is sad. By giving in he is
admitting that his wife is gone. His children are gone.
In the novel a consummation of their relationship can not possibly have had the same emotional effect. Therefore it is totally correct to have Dwight remain 'faithful' to his deceased wife.
An important movie for it's time. Wonderful novel, wonderful movie. Wonderful memories.
What a fantastic and thought provoking film. I watched this with my Dad one Sunday evening. I was about 12 at the time and could think of nothing worse than enduring some old fashioned film which I didn't think I would understand...how wrong I was! It really affected me and I have remembered it to this day as being one of my favourite films of all time.
The film does a good job developing the premise with a wide array of characters, each with their own intrigues pertaining to the plot - that of the end of the world. Through this apocalyptic narrative, each character reveals a different set of aspirations, preoccupying thoughts, and fears. The film does very well at sustaining an enjoyable framework for just about the whole 'first act', but the problem isn't nearly the take-off but rather the landing. It seems the film will end about 3, possibly 4 times, and all the tension it builds resolves, and yet it keeps going on, before deciding to end with an abrupt conclusion. It's too long for what it is, and the extra footage isn't necessary at all. It seems the whole tension/structural aspect has been over-managed, over-done. The apparent inherent logic seems to be one way, and then we're given an encore, and then another...and it only works against it. There's a lot of good in this film - good acting, entertaining content, somewhat interesting intrigues with their philosophical implications and romances...but it's just about half an hour too long.
The movie has a sadness to it and it is done very well. You get to see what it is like when there is no hope and pending death caused by humans mishandling the planet and each other. Its talky but if you pay attention, you figure out what is going on even though it is slow at times. A very touching scene of people all enjoying themselves each their own, knowing they are going to die, in a public setting while a bunch of folks sing Waltzing Matilda a cherished Australian folk song. At one poignant scene, it becomes a focal point and if you can hold back your tears from being moved, you are a better man than I but at a loss for it. The stars do their duty, our imaginations are activated, and we realize in the end that if what the movie is saying is true, you are now seeing the last of mankind. Thus, the sadness and loneliness that will now inhabit this part of the Solar System from now on. Snack for sure, always a tasty drink and reflect on the message of the movie
A coastal Australian population (and the US submarine coincidentally docked nearby) awaits the inevitable, weeks after the rest of the world was wiped out by a wave of nuclear-powered, mutually-assured destruction. There's an eerie sense of normalcy to the landscape, by far the film's greatest, most thought-provoking strength. The worker bees all go through their usual motions, as if a great big wall of radioactivity weren't looming off the coast, slowly creeping in to poison them all. It's enough to pull us out of the moment and consider how we might react in such a situation ourselves: when there's nothing to be done, isn't it better to ignore the inevitable, living out the rest of our days in a willfully-ignorant sense of unsteady bliss? Of course, there eventually comes a moment when such questions can't be dodged any longer, and the cast makes some bold, powerful decisions in the face of a long, grueling death by airborne toxin. Those uncomfortable choices, and the ethical quandaries that precede them, form a stiff backbone for the film. The slow, dry pacing of its superficial plot can be difficult to work through, though, and ultimately that's what keeps it from reaching its loftiest ambitions. As with many sci-fi commentaries of the era, you'll have to do a lot of reading between the lines to make the most of this one. It's smarter, but also far less accessible, than most of its modern counterparts.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On The Beach is directed by Stanley Kramer, has a screenplay by John
Paxton, is based on the novel by Nevil Shute and stars Gregory Peck,
Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson.
On The Beach is set in 1964 where following a Nuclear war the majority of the worlds population has been killed, apart from some people who were at sea at the time and the population of Australia. The deadly radiation is making it's way towards Australia and the citizens and any survivors from other countries who've made their way there must come to terms with their impending doom.
The US submarine USS Sawfish commanded by Captain Dwight Towers(Gregory Peck)arrives in Australia where Towers and his crew await the end of the world. Towers befriends Australian Navy Lieutenant Peter Holmes(Anthony Perkins)who's young wife Mary(Donna Anderson)is struggling to accept that they and their new born daughter will soon lose their lives.
Towers also meets Moira Davidson(Ava Gardner) a weary woman who uses alcohol as a way to cope with what humanity is facing. Towers and Moira fall in love and for a while bring some comfort to each other. Towers is a widower who's family were killed in the Nuclear war although he still holds onto a small hope that somehow they may have survived. Towers also meets Julian Osborne(Fred Astaire)a scientist who helped create the atom bomb and bitterly regrets that invention and the military who used these weapons.
As they seek to come to terms with their situation a radio transmission is received from America which could indicate survivors there. Towers, Osborne and the Sawfish crew go to investigate.
Bleak and chilling On The Beach makes us question the sense of having so many Nuclear and biological weapons when just having one is one too many. Both the film and the novel make you think how you would react to the world ending, would you pretend it wasn't going to happen? would you get sick or would you commit suicide to prevent a horrible death? The films characters all have to face these questions and Mary and Peter Holmes in particular struggle to decide when faced with suicide or agonising radiation sickness. It's an horrific choice none of us should ever have to face. Being released so close to the Cold War this film no doubt struck a powerful chord with audiences who thought they might well be facing the worlds end soon themselves.
Chilling,thought provoking and deeply moving with brilliant performances On The Beach is an unforgettable experience. The films use of the tune Waltzing Matilda is haunting and it works really well with the film especially during the final few minutes.
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