One The Beach (1959): A Surprisingly Cathartic Post-Apocalyptic Film

If you’re down in the dumps this may not be the movie for you. Unless… you, like myself, enjoy (if that’s the right word) the cathartic feeling of watching a deeply sad motion picture.  Let’s face it, a movie about the extinction of humanity due to radiation poisoning where Fred Astaire suffocates himself in his car and Anthony Perkins, his wife and baby daughter take suicide pills before the fallout kills them is hardly likely to give you a spring in your step.


On The Beach (1959) - opening scene - Waltzing Matilda HQ

On the Beach 1959 Trailer | Gregory Peck | Ava Gardner

Written by  novelist and aeronautical engineer Nevil Shute (A Town Like Alice), the book details the attempt of Gregory Peck’s Australia-based submarine Commander Dwight Towers to discover whether Morse Code signals emanating from San Diego (an area previously swamped by the radioactive cloud) means that some people have survived the cataclysm.
Shute’s aeronautical background gives particular veracity to the technical details. I won’t be spoiling the plot (that much) to say that things don’t end well. The picture boasts a stellar cast, including Peck, the aforementioned Astaire/Perkins and the always-gorgeous Ava Gardner:
It’s a very touching film, but one that doesn’t offer much in the way of hope – so, buyer beware. Director/producer Stanley Kramer was king of the socially conscious movie in the 50s and 60s, including The Defiant Ones (1958), Inherit The Wind (1960), Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967).
My personal favourite of Kramer’s films was the atypical WWII comedy The Secret of Santa Vittoria – in part because I have often stayed at the stunning location of Anticoli Corrado in Lazio:



On the Beach was pointlessly remade in 2000 with Armand Assante, and married in real life couple Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown.


On the Beach 2000 Trailer.avi

Brown is an advocate of Australian Republicanism, which to me more than makes up for Cocktail

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Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'