On the Beach

Year: 1959

Production: Lomitas Productions / United Artists

Director: Stanley Kramer

Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins, Guy Doleman

Screenwriter: John Paxton

Based on On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute

134 minutes; B/W


1964, the near future: only Australia has survived a global nuclear war. This merely prolongs the agony: a cloud of radioactive fallout is moving south and everyone will die. Suicide pills are handed out; people face death (or run to meet it) with varying degrees of dignity, though tears are shed; big-name Hollywood stars (the plot provides reasons for the number of Americans facing the end in Melbourne) look anguished; the wind blows newspapers through empty streets. On the Beach was the most celebrated of the 1950s anti-Bomb films, heavily publicized, much discussed, seen as Art, and certainly effective propaganda in the Cold-War nuclear-weapons debate. It has not weathered well; seen today it appears slow, mawkish, ludicrously stiff-upper-lip, and unrealistic in a sanitized middle-class way: no riots, no looting, just chaps feeling miserable and driving racing cars in a reckless manner. The Australian legend that Ava Gardner, while shooting, looked around and said of Melbourne "What a great place to make a movie about the end of the world" is untrue. Peter Nicholls appeared in a crowd scene.

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