On the Beach (1959 film)

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On the Beach
Onethebeach.jpg
On the Beach film 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
Editing byFrederic Knudtson
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release datesDecember 17, 1959 (U.S. release)
Running time134 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2.9 million[1]
 
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On the Beach
Onethebeach.jpg
On the Beach film 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
Editing byFrederic Knudtson
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release datesDecember 17, 1959 (U.S. release)
Running time134 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$2.9 million[1]

On the Beach (1959) is a post-apocalyptic drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and written by John Paxton, based on Nevil Shute's 1957 novel of the same name and starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins.

Stanley Kramer won the 1960 BAFTA for best director and Ernest Gold won the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Score. The film was remade as an Australian television film by Southern Star Productions in 2000.

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. While the bombs were confined to the northern hemisphere, air currents are slowly carrying the fallout south. The only areas still habitable are in the far southern hemisphere, like Australia.

From Australia, survivors detect an incomprehensible Morse code signal from San Diego in the United States. In the hope that someone is still alive back home, the last American nuclear submarine, USS Sawfish, under Royal Australian Navy command, is ordered to sail north from Melbourne to try to make contact with the signal sender. The captain, Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck), leaves behind his good friend, the alcoholic Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner), despite his feelings of guilt about the deaths of his wife and children in Connecticut. Towers refuses to admit they are dead and continues to behave accordingly.

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 (Anthony Perkins), and his naive and childish wife, Mary (Donna Anderson), 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. If so, this would 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. The submarine next stops at San Francisco. The views through the periscope show no signs of life and no damage to buildings. One crewman jumps ship to spend his last days in his hometown. After attempting to convince the crewman to return, Towers accepts his decision. The crewman is last seen fishing as the Sawfish submerges.

Sawfish then travels to an abandoned oil refinery in San Diego, where they discover that despite the fact that everyone is dead, the hydroelectric power station is still operating. The ship's communications officer is sent ashore in a radiation suit 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.

The submariners return to Australia to live out the remaining time before the nuclear fallout reaches their shores. They do their best to enjoy what pleasures remain to them before dying. Scientist Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire) and others participate in a previously scheduled motor race, the Australian Grand Prix, in which many participants, with nothing left to lose, die in accidents. The carnage perhaps allows amateur Julian Osborn, at the wheel of his vintage Ferrari, to win the race. Moira only sees the senselessness of the race, but when she asks Osborn why he is taking part, he responds, "Because I want to."

Prior to the submarine voyage to America, Towers told Moira about how he enjoys relaxing by fishing. During his absence, the Australian government moves the fishing season earlier, and Dwight gets one last chance to fish after all. With Towers now accepting the death of his family, he and Moira embark on a weekend trip to the country. Retreating to the resort for the night, Dwight and Moira share a romantic interlude inside their room as, outside, a gathering storm howls. Returning to Melbourne, Towers is told one of his crew has developed radiation sickness. The deadly radiation has arrived. Some citizens seek spiritual guidance from the Salvation Army. They hang a banner from the public library stating that "There Is Still Time… Brother."

Osborn, proud and satisfied after winning the Australian Grand Prix, mounts his winner's plaque on his Ferrari, seals the garage and, sitting in the race car, guns the engine and ends his life by carbon monoxide poisoning. Others line up to receive their suicide pills. Later, Mary Holmes becomes emotionally unbalanced and must be placed under sedation. Later, she regains lucidity. We see Peter enter their bedroom, and he drops something onto a table as we realize that we no longer hear the baby crying, which implies that he has just given their infant daughter the suicide drug. Mary and Peter share a tender moment together before Mary decides that she has been "foolish and impractical" and tells her husband, "I'd like that cup of tea now," signaling that she and Peter will now take their suicide pills and die in each other's arms.

Dwight wants to stay with Moira, but many of his remaining crew want to head for home and die in the United States. In the end, Commander Towers chooses duty over his love for Moira and leads his crew back home, even though their chances of making it that far are virtually nonexistent. Moira watches from the shore as the Sawfish submerges beneath the waves. The end shows the deserted, abandoned streets of Melbourne. The last shot, punctuated by emphatic music, is of a church banner that ironically reads "There Is Still Time… Brother".

Differences between the novel and film[edit]

Cast[edit]

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 of 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.[3] 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.[4]

Frank Chacklesfield's 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.

Release[edit]

On the Beach premiered simultaneously in several major cities around the world, including Moscow in the Soviet Union.

Reception[edit]

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.

Academy Awards[edit]

CategoryPerson
Nominated:
Best ScoreErnest Gold
Best EditingFrederic Knudtson

Criticism[edit]

The 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, nor have they ever, had enough nuclear weapons to cause human extinction.[5] Similarly the premise that all of humanity would die following a nuclear war and only the "cockroaches would survive" is critically dealt with in the book "Would the Insects Inherit the Earth and Other Subjects of Concern to Those Who Worry About Nuclear War".

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]

  1. ^ a b Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 144
  2. ^ "Filmography". Nevilshute.org. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Melway (Third ed.). Melbourne: Melway. 1969. p. 111. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  4. ^ "Review" lift-out magazine in The Weekend Australian, 18–19 December 1999.
  5. ^ http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ap1001/bartlett.htm

External links[edit]