on June 13, 2004
An unforgettable movie that is as important and as powerful today as when it was first released.
Shute took his title from a stanza from T S Eliot's The Hollow Men:-
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river...
The tumid (swollen) river is metaphorical, as is the beach, given that Eliot's bleak, desolate landscape is a spiritual one, as in his classic work, The Wasteland.
Shute's movie is utterly compelling all the way through, partly due to the subject matter, helped along by a stunning cast, and very capable production and direction.
The scene in which the Sub arrives in the US to check on the erratic morse signal was actually shot in Australia, as they could not obtain permission to film it in the US.
There was a very creditable 2000 Showtime version with Rachel Ward and Armand Assante, which was truer to the book, although set closer to present time, but the Peck version is still the definitive one.
You cannot top this movie for dramatic content, brilliantly delivered by Peck, Gardner, Perkins and Astaire above all.
Yes, this could still happen, and yes, nuclear deterrence may well have worked so far, but I always remember a line from Bob Dylan's "If God's On Our Side", which goes...
If God's on our side,
He'll stop the next war...
Maybe he did.
on June 20, 2004
This is the film that for me captures the terror I felt as a child, growing up at the height of the Cold War; it is bleak and intense, with scenes that are forever etched in my mind. It's one of the great films of that era ("Seven Days in May" and "Fail Safe" are others) that I can watch repeatedly, and their power and impact are never diminished.
Based on Nevil Shute's best seller, and brilliantly directed by Stanley Kramer, the use of sound effects combined with Ernest Gold's Oscar nominated score is very effective. Sometimes the simplest noise set against complete silence is ominous, and gives the feeling of the desolation of empty cities.
As time runs out, people try to avoid the "morbid discussion" of what awaits them, and some make the most of those precious days, weeks and months, like the elderly scientist Julian (in an exceptional performance by Fred Astaire), who completes his dream of being a race car driver.
Both strong and tender, Gregory Peck is fabulous as Dwight Towers, the commander of a submarine, who has trouble accepting that he is alive, while his family are victims of the "monstrous war". The woman who falls in love with him is Ava Gardner, who has spent far too much time being consoled by a bottle of brandy. The plot is filled out by Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson, a young couple facing the fact that their baby has no future.
In the late 50s and early 60s, the scenario in this film was all too real; we face other dangers now, but there was something truly chilling about those Cold War years, and this film vividly brings back the memory of them. Total running time is 134 minutes.
on February 16, 2004
This movie is now a bit dated but it remains one of my favorites.
Some of the scenes in the movie, including the segment where the US submarine Sawfish visits a vacant and dead US west coast to investigate a Morse code signal, are among the finest scenes ever shot in a movie.
The movie involves the Captain (Gregory Peck) and crew of the US submarine Sawfish that finds itself in southern waters near Australia after a nuclear war has wiped out the northern hemisphere. Apparently the radiation levels were high enough to kill everyone in the upper half of the globe quickly. Now the winds are driving the radiation into the southern part of the globe but there are a number of months left to live before the radiation reaches Australia.
The movie is about Captain Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck) who seems unable or unwilling to accept that his wife and family back in the US are dead, along with Ava Gardner - his female companion in the movie - and locals played by Fred Astaire an amateur race car buff, and Anthony Perkins a member of the Australian navy.
It chronicles their months together until the end comes leaving us with vacant scenes of downtown Melbourne, Australia.
A very powerful movie.
Jack in Toronto
on January 26, 2004
To me, the magnificance of the Nevil Shute "On the Beach" novel, and this movie, is that it is an honest, believeable account of the end of the world as seen by the remaining soon-to-die but maybe not survivors.
There are no heroics, there are no hysterics, there are no scenes of war: people try to cope, adapt, get along, and sometimes have hope in their own way -- often with humor -- but with the stark reality that they are all most likely to die because of man's weapons of self-destruction. Throughout, you're engaged and captivated with the believeable story lines and have to keep reminding yourself that the war is over -- and EVERYBODY lost, until the final scenes, when the effects of the nuclear radiation clouds finally reach Australia.
The movie's synopsis is available elsewhere on Amazon and is essentially accurate, so I won't bother. The cast is incredibly believeable. You'll find you'll establish a rapport with every character, no matter how small. And Fred Astair as the egg-head scientist is outstanding in this, his first dramatic role (and as a kid, I thought he had already died when I first saw the movie). But a remarkable performance that re-ignited his career :-)
Just as an aside, I do think the book and movie had a material effect of presenting the consequences of what was in store if we went to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I read the book as a 12-year-old when it was available at the Dallas Public Library. I didn't know there was a movie until several years later. The book was published in 1958; the movie came out in 1959 -- the "On the Beach" stage was set for the future, 1964.
I was a bag boy at a local Kroger's grocery store during the Cuban missile crisis. We were TOTALLY sold out and the shelves were cleared of canned goods, bottled water, batteries, candles, -- you name it -- for stockpiling because of the panic and fear of immediate total nuclear war.
I've heard several accounts that the message presented in "On the Beach" had a highly positive effect to motivate our representatives in government to find a peaceful solution.
I hope politicans everywhere around the world will watch it today.
George in Texas
on June 14, 2003
Some people have said this film is dated, but remember, during the Cold War years of the 50's and 60's and even afterwards the specter of a possible nuclear conflagration between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was a very real possibility. Although there were think tanks like Hermann Kahn's Hudson Institute trying to figure out what would happen if the bombs actually fell someday, no-one really knew how bad the aftermath would be, and whether the north would be completely destroyed or not, and if so, whether the southern hemisphere would actually survive or not.
Whether the reality would have played out as depicted in the film, however, isn't that important now. What is important is that Kramer produced a well-acted and well-done film, weaving the stories of the different characters together into a powerful film about how the world might have ended. Peck turns in a classy performance as usual, but everyone is really excellent; Astaire, Gardner, and Perkins all turn in fine performances. Overall, still a fine film even after almost 45 years. Big Steve says rent it and don't Bogart the popcorn.
on June 8, 2003
On the Beach is much like the classic From Here to Eternity. Different story, however how an apocalyptic event is unfolding and how it effects these peoples lives is very similar. Peck is outstanding, Gardner a terrific supporter, Perkins in his second-best performance, all the acting is fabulous. Story is a little out there, however is quite frightening considering we have the power to make this film come true.
Peck is a submarine commander who has just landed ashore on the beautiful coast of Australia where the world's last survivors have been dreadfully awaiting the deadly radiation cloud caused by the war. He sees the radiation hasn't arrived yet so he and his crew emerge from the ocean and visit the town. Perkins is the Australian naval officer assigned to meet up with him and inform him of their condition. Gardner is the beautiful, constantly drunk woman who he quickly gains a loving relationship with. Jillian (i think thats his name) is her older ex-boyfriend whose dream of succeeding at the races is fulfilled in one of the most breath-taking racing scenes ever filmed. Depressing, however powerful message to the world about the awesome power the nuclear weapons have and what we can destroy by our own hands.
on November 4, 2002
I suspect that the reason so many ... customer reviews of On the Beach are negative is that the expectations of today's audiences, particularly younger audiences, are entirely different from when this movie was released, in 1959.
The movie is based quite closely on Neville Shute's excellent novel, with just a few differences. The rather strange denial of impending death, shown by most of the characters in the book, has been wisely omitted from the movie. The scientist, John Osborne, has had his name changed to Julian in the film, and is given more depth, beautifully played by Fred Astaire.
I think today's movie goers have difficulty relating to this movie because it is not an action movie and it is not a science fiction movie. Yes, it deals with the last survivors of a nuclear war as they await their own deaths. But the genre of science fiction films requires that the heroes and/or heroines confront the Problem and conquer it, whether that Problem be giant ants, invading Martians, or mutant carnivorous plants. In On the Beach, it is made plain from the beginning of both the book and the movie that there will be no triumph or escape. Instead, the theme is the maintaining of human decency and integrity in the face of imminent death. This is not the sort of stuff for young audiences raised on Bruce Lee movies.
I think it is important, too, that today's young movie-goers watch this movie with the idea firmly in mind that people in 1959 believed that they might very well be the last generation of human beings, before a nuclear holocaust wiped us all out. I was nineteen when I first saw the film, just after its release to theaters and long before the advent of VHS and home video. It was powerful stuff back then, and I don't think there's any doubt that it was an important element in the nuclear disarmament movement.
I highly recommend this movie. The acting and direction are excellent, and it deals with powerful themes. But keep in mind that you'll be watching a film from another era, when books and movies were deliberately slower paced and the depth of characterization was considered to be much more important than fast paced action.
Wore out my VHS now working on the DVD. I am saddened that there are not a lot of DVD goodies on their film. Maybe one day there will be a criterion version.
Yes the book was written in the Cold War Era environment. Some characters are predictable or are portrayed as such so we can see how different people face or do not face the inevitable. Even those characters that change easily through some sort of epiphany can be predictable. The basic story in the book is that Albania sends a plan with a major country's markings and we retaliate. In the movie they changed it to some hotshot getting trigger-happy with a weapon that could only cause assured destruction. However the book not a pacifist (don't build bombs story). It could be a speculative fiction or just speculative.
Again the book On the Beach as most books is more complete in the characterization and description of the story. One the people is a cross of characters. The captain, Dwight Towers, is well trained and loyal to the U.S. to the end. He takes the sub out to international waters, as Australia is an ally, but not the U.S. Moira Davidson realizes that Dwight is married and helps him buy a pogo stick for the kid. She also decides to make something of herself by going to secretarial school. Others plan for next year.
The movie On the Beach (1959) stays fairly loyal to the feel, with a few minor changes. Some of the changes were necessary due to the difference in media. However others were a little distracting. They used major stars that overshadowed the character that they were playing. Ava Gardner was just a tad old for the part of Moira Davidson. However the movie still let the characters be real and predictable. Such as Dwight Towers, loyal to the U.S. takes his crew back to the US (not quite the book but still loyal to this command).
It is worth re-wathcing. But defiantly read the book.
on January 16, 2002
Stanley Kramer was a hard-hitting, uncompromising producer-director who specialized in "message films." His 1958 blockbuster film "The Defiant Ones" with Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis addressed the race issue in America just one year after President Eisenhower was compelled to send federal troops into Little Rock to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court's school desegregation order. One year later "On the Beach" was released and generated an immediate firestorm of controversy.
The year the film was released, 1959, was the same year that Vice-President Richard Nixon had his famous "Kitchen Debate"in Moscow with Soviet boss Nikita Khrushchev. Just three years later the Cuban Missile Crisis took place, when the world hung on the precipice of a possible nuclear conflict as President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev stood "eyeball to eyeball."
"On the Beach" was a faithful adaptation by screenwriter John Paxton of a novel by Australian author Nevil Shute. It is 1964 and a nuclear conflict has taken place. All other human life is dead with the exception of those living in Australia, where the extinction of the human race is said to be five months away at the most from the ravages of nuclear fallout, which is making its ugly path Australia's way.
The film covers two basic points: 1) How and why did humankind reach this precipice?; 2) How do people react in the wake of such a unanimous death sentence?
In his first chiefly dramatic role, dancing great Fred Astaire is illuminating as a nuclear scientist who feels waves of guilt over his assistance in helping build awesome tools of destruction, and yet, on the other hand, when confronted at a party to explain what happened and how the cataclysym occurred, he replies by saying that the scientists signed petitions and warned governments about the destruction that would be unleashed if the weapons were ever used. As to how the conflict started, he confesses ignorance, speculating that it was "probably started by some bloke who thought he saw something on a radar screen that wasn't actually there."
Submarine commander Gregory Peck, an American in Australia on naval duty, wants to start a relationship with Ava Gardner, but lives in a world where he is unable to accept that his wife and children in New London, Connecticut are no longer alive. Gardner, on the other hand, is a lonely woman given to acoholic depression who believes that life has passed her by, and hopes to secure one important love attachment with Peck before the end of the world occurs. "I wanted just once to walk on Rue de Rivoli," she tells Peck tearfully in one emotional scene.
Navy lieutenant Anthony Perkins and wife Donna Anderson have a baby daughter and would, ordinarily, look forward to a long and productive family life. Instead Perkins, not wanting to expose wife and daughter to suffering, arranges to receive pills that can induce early death before leaving on an assignment to America on Peck's submarine, not wanting them to suffer unnecessarily in his expected absence. Anderson is in denial, refusing to believe that the prospect for humanity is hopeless. Eventually when the end comes Perkins is there and she feels fulfilled by his love and that she holds for her young daughter.
One unique plot point is the exploration of Peck and crewmates toward possible hope of life. It comes in the form of unexpected and unexplainable morse code sounds from a point in San Diego. When they investigate they learn that the sounds result from a window shade brushing against a Coke bottle, which then pushes against the code machine.
One of the cinematic highlights of the film is the last Australian Grand Prix auto race, in which the drivers throw caution to the winds, many hoping to kill themselves rather than face death through radiation or suicide pills. Astaire, who had never before raced competitively, wins in his prize Ferrari. He shortly thereafter asphyxiates himself in his Ferrari in his garage after placing his winning emblem on his car.
on April 16, 2001
First, the not so important point. Yes, perhaps this movie is "dated" - in the sense that the Cold War is "over" and that the general consensus seems to be that nuclear war is far less likely today than ever before. Maybe that is true, but nuclear war is not this movie's main focus.
As another reviewer has written, this movie is about how individuals deal differently with an impending and inevitable death. The nuclear element is important in this regard, because clearly the main characters would not react the same way to, say, a terminal illness in which only they would die. It is the reaction to the world as we know it coming to an end which gives this movie it's haunting, timeless intrigue. To frame the content of this movie in any political context is in my opinion a huge mistake which simply distracts from the enjoyment of the film.
But "enjoyment" is really the wrong word here. This movie, perhaps more than any other in my collection (and I have well over 200), may be the most painful and depressing to watch. And it's impact only increased once I got married and had children. The characters are suffering not because of their deaths as much as for those who they love. This emotion is transferred to the viewer with the delicacy of a nine-pound hammer (even if you have seen the movie multiple times).
Ava Gardner and Anthony Perkins may seem to steal the show from the stoic Gregory Peck, but I think this is really a misinterpretation. It is clear that denial is Peck's main weapon against the awful crisis, but he acts his part almost too well - what seems almost like "indifference" to his wife and children's deaths (he is able to smile, occasionally laugh and eventually have an "affair" with Gardner) is simply a defense mechanism which he cannot or dare not control. His is the saddest role, to me. Fred Astaire also turns in a stellar performance as well. Actually, the whole cast is excellent.
This movie may not have the same impact with the "under 40" crowd. I suppose the movie could have been played out similarly had the earth been, say, struck by a meteor - it's dust cloud slowly reigning death over the rest of the planet, but it would not have nearly the eerie, gut-wrenching quality it does as with the nuclear scenario, which has been indelibly imprinted on probably every baby-boomers brain in modern society.
I have many times pulled this movie out to watch it only to change my mind and put it back for another day - it's emotional impact on me has been that strong. That being said, it's a 5-star movie with great acting that should not be missed and that everyone should see at least once.