On the Beach (1959 film)

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On the Beach
Onethebeach.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStanley Kramer
Produced byStanley Kramer
Written byNevil Shute (novel)
John Paxton (screenplay)
StarringGregory Peck
Ava Gardner
Fred Astaire
Anthony Perkins
Music byErnest Gold
CinematographyGiuseppe Rotunno
Edited byFrederic Knudtson
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • December 17, 1959 (1959-12-17) (U.S.)
Running time134 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2.9 million[1]
 
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On the Beach
Onethebeach.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStanley Kramer
Produced byStanley Kramer
Written byNevil Shute (novel)
John Paxton (screenplay)
StarringGregory Peck
Ava Gardner
Fred Astaire
Anthony Perkins
Music byErnest Gold
CinematographyGiuseppe Rotunno
Edited byFrederic Knudtson
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • December 17, 1959 (1959-12-17) (U.S.)
Running time134 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2.9 million[1]

On the Beach is a 1959 American post-apocalyptic science fiction drama film, produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, and starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins. The film is based on Nevil Shute's 1957 novel of the same name.

Plot[edit]

The story is set in a then-future 1964, in the months following World War III. The conflict has devastated the northern hemisphere, polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout and killing all life. Air currents are slowly carrying the fallout south. The only areas still habitable are in the far southern hemisphere.

From Australia, survivors detect an incomprehensible Morse code signal from San Francisco in the United States. The last American nuclear submarine, USS Sawfish, under Royal Australian Navy command, is ordered to sail north to try to make contact with the signal sender. The sub is commanded by Captain Dwight Towers, who must leave his good friend, the alcoholic Moira Davidson.

The Australian government arranges for its citizens to receive suicide pills and injections, so that they may end things quickly before there is prolonged suffering from the inevitable radiation sickness. An Australian naval officer, Peter Holmes and his wife, Mary, who is in denial about the impending disaster, have a baby daughter. Assigned to travel with the American submarine for several weeks, Peter tries to explain to Mary how to euthanize their baby and kill herself with the lethal pills in case he's not yet home when the time comes. Mary reacts violently at the prospect of killing her daughter and herself.

One scientist's theory is that the radiation level near the Arctic Ocean could be lower than that found at mid-northern hemisphere, which might indicate the radiation could disperse before reaching the southern hemisphere. This was to be explored along with the submarine's main mission. After sailing to Point Barrow, Alaska, they determine that radiation levels are, on the contrary, intensifying.

In San Diego, the ship's communications officer is sent ashore to investigate. The mysterious signal is the result of a Coca-Cola bottle being bumped by a window shade fluttering in the breeze and tapping a telegraph key. With correct Morse he sends a message describing the situation and then returns to the ship.

The submariners return to Australia and try to enjoy what pleasures remain to them before dying. Scientist Julian Osborn wins the Australian Grand Prix, in which many racers, with nothing left to lose, die in accidents. Dwight and Moira embark on a weekend fishing trip to the country. Retreating to the resort for the night, they share a romantic interlude inside their room as, outside, a gathering storm howls. Returning to Melbourne, Towers learns one of his crew has developed radiation sickness; the deadly radiation has arrived.

Osborn kills himself by carbon monoxide poisoning. Others line up to receive their suicide pills. Mary Holmes becomes emotionally unbalanced and must be placed under sedation. Later, she regains lucidity and she, Peter and their baby daughter take the suicide drug.

Dwight wants to stay with Moira but many of his remaining crew want to head for home and die amidst the remains of the former United States. Commander Towers chooses his duty over his love for Moira and joins his crew as they attempt to travel back home to the radioactive ruins of the United States, even though they will all die from radiation poisoning en route. Moira watches as the Sawfish leaves Australian territorial waters and then submerges. The end shows the deserted, windblown streets of Melbourne. The last shot, punctuated by sudden and dramatic music, is of a church banner that reads "There Is Still Time … Brother"—evidently intended as a message from the film's then-future scenario to then-present-day viewers that nuclear war could still be prevented.

Cast[edit]

  • Gregory Peck as Commander Dwight Lionel Towers, USS Sawfish
  • Ava Gardner as Moira Davidson, Towers' Australian love interest
  • Fred Astaire as Julian Osborn, Australian scientist
  • Anthony Perkins as Lieutenant Commander Peter Holmes, Royal Australian Navy
  • Donna Anderson as Mary Holmes, Peter's wife
  • John Tate as Admiral Bridie, Royal Australian Navy
  • Harp McGuire as Lieutenant Sunderstrom (ashore in San Diego)
  • Lola Brooks as Lieutenant Hosgood, Bridie's secretary
  • Ken Wayne as Lieutenant Benson
  • Guy Doleman as Lieutenant Commander Farrel
  • Richard Meikle as Davis
  • John Meillon as Sawfish crewman Ralph Swain (ashore in San Francisco)
  • Joe McCormick as Ackerman, radiation sickness victim
  • Lou Vernon as Bill Davidson, Moira's father
  • Kevin Brennan as Dr. King, radiation diagnosis doctor
  • Keith Eden as Dr. Fletcher (beach scene)
  • Basil Buller-Murphy as Sir Douglas Froude
  • Brian James as Royal Australian Navy officer
  • John Casson as Salvation Army captain
  • Paddy Moran as Stevens (club wine steward)
  • Grant Taylor as Morgan (Holmes party)
  • George Fairfax (Holmes party guest)
  • Earl Francis (Holmes party guest)

Production[edit]

Like the novel, much of the film takes place in Melbourne, close to the southernmost part of the Australian mainland. Beach scenes were filmed at the foreshore of Cowes on Phillip Island. The racing sequences were filmed at Riverside Raceway in California and at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, home to the present day Australian motorcycle Grand Prix, conveniently near Cowes at Phillip Island. These scenes include an array of late 1950s sports cars, including examples of the Jaguar XK150 and Jaguar D-type, Porsche 356, Mercedes-Benz 300 SL "Gullwing", AC Ace, Chevrolet Corvette and prominent in sequences was the "Chuck Porter Special", a customized Mercedes 300SL. Built by Hollywood bodyshop owner Chuck Porter and driven by a list of notable 1950s to 1960s west coast racers, including Ken Miles and Chuck Stevenson, who purchased and successfully raced it in the early 1960s.

The U.S. Department of Defense as well as the United States Navy refused to cooperate in the production of this film, not allowing access to their nuclear-powered submarines.[a] The film production crew was forced to use a non-nuclear, diesel-electric Royal Navy submarine, HMS Andrew. An additional scene was shot in Melbourne night-club Ciro's. Among the audience in the scene were several popular Melbourne television personalities, most notably Graham Kennedy. The scene was not used in the cinema release of the film, and does not feature in the various DVD releases. It is not known if the scene was included in any released version of the film. The movie was shot in part in Berwick, then a suburb outside Melbourne and part in Frankston, also a Melbourne suburb. The well known scene where Peck meets Gardner, who arrives from Melbourne by rail, was filmed on platform #1 of Frankston railway station, now rebuilt, and a subsequent scene where Peck and Gardner are transported off by horse and buggy, was filmed in Young Street, Frankston. Some streets which were being built at the time in Berwick were named after people involved in the film.[2] Some examples are: Shute Avenue (Nevil Shute) and Kramer Drive (Stanley Kramer).

It has often been claimed that Ava Gardner described Melbourne as "the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world." However, the purported quote was actually invented by journalist Neil Jillett, who was writing for the Sydney Morning Herald at the time. His original draft of a tongue-in-cheek piece about the making of the film said that he had not been able to confirm a third-party report that Ava Gardner had made this remark. The newspaper's sub-editor changed it to read as a direct quotation from Gardner. It was published in that form and entered Melbourne folklore very quickly.[3]

Frank Chacksfield's orchestral performance of the love theme from the film was released as a single in 1960. The song "Waltzing Matilda" became more popular all over, as a result of the film, with many folk singers recording their own versions, including Harry Belafonte, Jimmie Rodgers (who had recorded 2 different versions of the song), and Tim Morgan. The Seekers, who are from Australia, have recorded this song several times.

On the Beach was remade in 2000 as an Australian television film by Southern Star Productions.

Differences between the novel and film[edit]

Release and reception[edit]

On the Beach premiered simultaneously in seventeen cities on six continents on December 17, 1959. The Hollywood premiere was attended by the film's stars Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins, in addition to other celebrities, including Cary Grant. The New York premiere was attended by Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr.. The London premiere was attended by Soviet Ambassador to the United Kingdom Yakov Malik. Star Ava Gardner attended the Rome premiere. The Tokyo premiere was attended by members of the Japanese Royal Family. The Stockholm premiere was attended by King Gustav VI. The Melbourne premiere was attended by Premier of Victoria Henry Bolte. Other premieres were held in Caracas, West Berlin, Johannesburg, Lima, Paris, Toronto and Zurich[5] Although the film did not receive a commercial release in the Soviet Union, a special premiere was unprecedentedly arranged for that night in Moscow, with star Gregory Peck and his wife traveling to Russia for the screening, which was held at a workers' club, with 1200 Soviet dignitaries, the foreign press corps, and diplomats including US Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson attending.[6]

The film recorded a loss of $700,000.[1] Despite this, the movie received positive praise in its day and in later years. It also got a fan base that agreed on many of the issues presented.

Awards[edit]

Stanley Kramer won the 1960 BAFTA for best director and Ernest Gold won the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Score. It was also nominated for Academy Awards in two categories:

CategoryPerson
Nominated:
Best ScoreErnest Gold
Best EditingFrederic Knudtson

Criticism[edit]

The then American government voiced a criticism of the general premise of the novel and book—that there was a threat of extinction from nuclear war—because they did not have, nor had they ever had, enough nuclear weapons to cause human extinction.[7]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Bartlett, Andrew (2004). "Nuclear Warfare in the Movies". Anthropoetics 10 (1). ISSN 1083-7264. Retrieved 12 July 2012. The American government complained of Kramer’s On the Beach (1959) that it inaccurately presented the threat of extinction from nuclear war because there were not then enough weapons to cause extinction. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]