Friday, October 23, 2009

Essential Cinema - 48

On The Beach

Gregory Peck
Ava Gardner
Fred Astaire
Anthony Perkins

Stanley Kramer

Nevil Shute (novel)
John Paxton

The survivors of a nuclear holocaust gather in Australia to contemplate the end of their world.

Facing the inevitable and coming to terms with all the things we have done and have left to do.

I saw this film years ago and was impressed with it. I wanted to watch it again, since I am in the process of screening another film based on Shute's work called "A Town Like Alice". The second time around, I found the impact of this film far more intense than I initially remembered.

Released in 1959, the film starts with the premise that the Soviet Union and United States have obliterated each other with nuclear weapons, but that the Earth's southern hemisphere has been left physically unscathed. However, the radiation released from the war is slowing drifting down under and it is only a matter of time before the inhabitants of Australia are also extinct, along with the rest of the human race.

Into this mix comes the American Nuclear Submarine 'Sawfish'. The story follows the interactions between her captain, and the local officials as they try and determine what to do with the limited time they have left. This film touches on some profound issues regarding human perceptions of regret, duty and the lack of hope due to our past failures. In essence, all these characters are walking zombies, waiting for death to arrive. How each of them deals with that reality and the regrets of their past is what makes the film so engrossing.

Gregory Peck as the submarine captain and Fred Astaire as the nuclear scientist are racked with guilt over what their science and military have done to the human race. Ava Gardner's Moira must deal with her thoughts of abandonment, love unfulfilled and the impending loss of her last chance at happiness. Throw into this mix, the mystery of learning exactly what happened to their families back in the United State and strange radio signals coming from the radioactive wasteland of southern California and you have a two hour film that is hard to stop watching.

I am a big fan of this type of drama so I can't find a lot of cons with this film. There really isn't an ending to the film. After all, you already know the ending in the beginning....everyone is going to die. The film is all about what they learn and realize before the end comes. This film is somewhat simplistic in its view of the nuclear holocaust aftermath. Even when they make it back to America, there is little damage or sign of 'nuclear winter' as predicted in the 1970s. After watching this film, you will pause, take a walk in the woods and realize that there are things in all our lives that we need to address before it is too late.

This film is a part of my LaserDisc Collection which is located on the LaserDisc Database.

Clicking on the "Essential Cinema" title will take you to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) entry for this film. The listing of all the LaserDiscs that I have reviewed on IMDB can be found here.

Clicking here will take you to a listing of all the "Essential Cinema" reviews in my Blog.