Published on September 15th, 2009 | by Chris1
On The Beach (1959)
1959's On The Beach is a chilling look at what a post-apocalyptic future might look like, from the viewpoint of people who escaped the initial torrent of destruction.
It seems that Australia has "dodged the bullet" as it were, and was spared annihilation. US Submarine captain Lionel Towers (Gregory Peck) brings his ship into port at the last stand of humanity. There he teams up with the Australian Navy, and they devise a mission to determine the extent of the fallout damage to the rest of the planet.
Aussie Mariner Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins), and scientist Julian Osborne (Fred Astaire) join him on this futile mission. But the mission is really only a sliver of what the film is about.
What is mainly is, is a look at how the remaining shred of humanity deals with the inevitability of their own doom. They know full well that the radiation will eventually creep in on them, and sure enough, it does. Towers' relationship with Moira (Ava Gardner), Holmes with his wife, the guilt and finger-pointing over the root causes of this calamity... That's the real meat of the picture, and the philosophical elements greatly outweigh the mechanics of the mission. Even when one of the sailors abadons ship to knowingly die in his home port of San Fransisco, that's the gist of the story.
A big gold star goes to Fred Astaire in this picture. I've never seen him in a role that didn't involve a song-and-dance number, let alone a grim, troubled, alcoholic, but he knocked this one out of the park. Peck was, well, Peck, what else is there to say. Anthony Perkins was also stellar in his portrayal of the husband torn between his family and his duty, and his having to, for all practical purposes, tell his wife that she will one day have to kill herself and their new baby. Yeah, its that heavy.
What could have been an absolute ball-buster of a movie, though, is made somewhat laughable by today's standards by including massive amounts of 1950's melodrama. All sorts of "John! Marsha!" moments, accompanied by the requisite soundtrack swells... You can't help but roll your eyes a bit.
Overall, though, you're looking at a fine example of an early anti-war cold war movie, ending in a classically depressing yet prophetic manner. On The Beach was remade in 2000, and I've yet to see that one, so it will be interesting to note the differences in perspective, if any.
Thanks to Netflix and Roku for making this available via streaming to my TV. Picture was fair (experienced getting knocked down a "dot" for this one) and the sound was good for an older film.
Here's the final scenes of the film, thanks to YouTube. I'm sure you can get a general idea of what to expect from this:
Summary: Overall, though, you're looking at a fine example of an early anti-war cold war movie, ending in a classically depressing yet prophetic manner.