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Monday, March 20, 2017

On the Beach

The 1959 film On the Beach, directed by Stanley Kramer, may be one of the biggest downers I've ever seen. It's about nothing less than the extinction of mankind, and (spoiler alert) that's how it ends--no people. But this is not a surprise.

On the Beach is set in Australia. A U.S. submarine, captained by Gregory Peck, arrives in Melbourne. Quickly we learn that there was an atomic war and radiation has killed just about everybody, except for Australians, and that the radiation will reach there in a matter of months. Peck, along with Australian liaison officer Anthony Peck and scientist Fred Astaire, travel to the North Pole to see if the radiation is less there, but no dice. Then they track down an errant radio signal in San Diego, and the result is anticlimactic.

Peck, who has lost a wife and two children, but refers to them in the present tense for his sanity, ends up falling in love with Ava Gardner, who is a friendly drunk who used to be a lover of Astaire's. Perkins is married to Donna Anderson, and advises her to take a suicide pill, and give one to their baby, when the time comes. Cheerful stuff.

Kramer made several social message pictures during this time period, and it was one of the first cold war disaster pictures. The cause of the war is never explained, as none of them know what happened. Astaire speculates that a button was pressed by mistake, and blames Albert Einstein.

Not only is this film grim, it's a slog. I didn't buy the romance angle for one second (it's not in the original novel, by Nevil Shute). There's also a completely superfluous scene with Astaire taking place in a Grand Prix race. When oil is short, why would they have car races?

Please avoid On the Beach if you're feeling glum--it won't help. The extinction of mankind may well save the planet, but radiation is not the way to go, because it would probably kill animals, too.

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