» » On the Beach (1959)

Short summary

In 1964, atomic war wipes out humanity in the northern hemisphere; one American submarine finds temporary safe haven in Australia, where life-as-usual covers growing despair. In denial about the loss of his wife and children in the holocaust, American Captain Towers meets careworn but gorgeous Moira Davidson, who begins to fall for him. The sub returns after reconnaissance a month (or less) before the end; will Towers and Moira find comfort with each other?

Gregory Peck was a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons, and made this film for this reason. He believed atomic weapons should not have been used during World War II, and the reason for Japan's surrender was the Soviet Union's declaration of war on 9 August 1945 and simultaneous invasion of Manchuria. He also stated there was no need for any invasion of Japan, as a naval blockade of the islands would have starved the country into unconditional surrender.

The film had its world premiere on Dec. 17, 1959, in more than 20 cities worldwide, including Moscow. It was the first time an American film had had a premiere in the Soviet Union. The special premiere in Moscow was held at a workers' club, with 1200 Soviet dignitaries, the foreign press corps and diplomats including US Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson attending. Gregory Peck and his wife traveled to the Soviet Union for the premiere.

The movie was filmed in 1959. For one year (July 4, 1959 - July 4, 1960) the US flag had 49 stars. In the opening scene a 49-star flag can be seen flying from the submarine.

Ava Gardner's first film as a freelance actress after completing her 20-year studio contract at MGM, where she worked for a weekly salary and didn't benefit financially from being loaned to other studios. She was now free to choose her roles and negotiate her salary.

Fred Astaire launched his non-musical, dramatic acting career with this film. Stanley Kramer couldn't decide who to cast in this role until his wife suggested Astaire while watching one of his films on TV.

The U.S. Department of Defense and the United States Navy declined to cooperate in the production of this film, including access to a nuclear-powered submarine, which forced the film production to use a non-nuclear, diesel-electric Royal Navy submarine, HMS Andrew (Royal Navy submarines were based in Australia until 1967, when the Royal Australian Navy commissioned its own submarines).

It is rumored that guards at each end of the Golden Gate Bridge were paid $500 each to stop cars for a minute to get footage of an empty bridge.

The movie was shot in part in Berwick, a (then) small town in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Some streets which were being established during this time were named after people involved in the film. Some examples are: Gardner Street (Ava Gardner), Shute Avenue (Nevil Shute) and Kramer Drive (Stanley Kramer).

When Moira goes to visit Towers at the dock, an Australian sailor calls out "Get a load of that Charlie Wheeler". This is rhyming slang: 'Charlie Wheeler' rhymes with "sheila", an Australian term for a (young) woman.

According to Philip R. Davey, author of the book "When Hollywood Came to Melbourne: The Story of the Making of Stanley Kramer's 'On The Beach'", director Stanley Kramer experienced many problems with the thousands of bathers who stood in shoulder-deep water to watch the proceedings, and who applauded the cast after each take. Their enthusiasm was gratifying in this respect if not in others, such as when thousands of people began crowding forward to get a closer look at Ava Gardner, they repeatedly moved into camera range, thus necessitating many frustrating retakes.

Gregory Peck was strongly opposed to the Cold War.

While the film was shot in 1959, it was set in 1964. The two most famous movies related to nuclear war also took place in 1964: Dr Strangelove ehk Kuidas ma lõpetasin muretsemise ja õppisin armastama pommi (1964) and Fail-Safe (1964).

The first of three consecutive films in which Stanley Kramer cast the biggest former MGM musical stars in unexpected dramatic roles: Fred Astaire in this film, Gene Kelly in Inherit the Wind (1960), and Judy Garland in Nürnbergi protsess (1961).

The only US nuclear submarine with the hull #623 was the SSBN Nathan Hale, a ballistic missile submarine.

Like The Big Country (1958) and Pork Chop Hill (1959), this film strongly reflected Gregory Peck's pacifist and anti-war views.

Nevil Shute originally collaborated with Stanley Kramer on the film but soon realized that many of his ideas were not being incorporated so he distanced himself from the project. He was absolutely enraged by the final film - some say that this hatred of the movie contributed to a fatal stroke a month after the film's premiere. Shute was only 60 when he died.

The film takes place in 1964.

The tune played repeatedly throughout the film is the iconic Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda". It tells the story of a swagman (Australian for hobo) who steals a sheep and commits suicide rather than accept capture and imprisonment.

One of the favorite films of director Wim Wenders.

This film did poorly at the box office, resulting in a loss of $700,000 according to studio records.

Ava Gardner got herself into hot water when she claimed that "Melbourne was the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world". This, however, was something she never said and was made up by a journalist.

Gregory Peck privately agreed with Nevil Shute that the film was a watered-down version of the novel but had to show solidarity with his director, Stanley Kramer.

During the 1980s Gregory Peck was a very active opponent of President Ronald Reagan's Star Wars defense missile system. Peck stated his main priority in life was to see the world rid of nuclear weapons.

Unlike the novel, the film does not impart blame for the apocalypse to any one side, instead implying that it came about by accident.

This was Hollywood's first large-scale film to address the possibility of nuclear Armageddon.

At the time, Australia had little to no film industry so many studio facilities had to be built from scratch.

Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.

The car Osborne drives in the race is a 1955 Ferarri 750 Monza Spider. It is one of only 35 built. In 2011 this exact car sold at auction for over $2.5M. In 2016, another example, with a more famous and race-winning pedigree sold for over $5.2M.

Fred Astaire thoroughly enjoyed filming in Australia as, unlike Ava Gardner, he was not hounded by the press. In fact, for most of the shoot, he was able to move around freely, frequenting thrift shops and race tracks.

The aircraft carrier near the beginning of the movie is the HMAS Melbourne (R21).

Premiered simultaneously in 18 cinemas on all seven continents on December 17 1959. This even included a screening at the Little America base in Antarctica.

The Hollywood premiere was attended by many celebrities, including some of the film's stars. The New York premiere was attended by Mayor Robert F. Wagner. The London premiere was attended by Yakov Malik, Soviet Ambassador to the U.K. Ava Gardner attended the Rome premiere. The Japanese Royal Family attended the Tokyo premiere. Swedish King Gustaf VI Adolf attended the Stockholm premiere. The Melbourne premiere was attended by Premier of Victoria Henry Bolte. Premieres were held simultaneously in 20 cities on six continents.

Film debut of Donna Anderson.

The movie is set in 1964. This is not a random year in the future. in 1914 WWI started, and after 25 years, in 1939, WWII started. If you add 1939 and 25 you get 1964.

Stanley Kramer obviously developed a taste for big budget movies with an all-star cast as most of his subsequent films - Inherit the Wind (1960), Nürnbergi protsess (1961), It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) and Ship of Fools (1965) - all followed the same format.

The Australian admiral, played by John Tate, does not exist in the novel.

The three leading men --Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins-- had all previously been leading men opposite Audrey Hepburn in Puhkus Roomas (1953), Funny Face (1957), and Green Mansions (1959), respectively. A signed photo of the three men on the set of On the Beach was sold at Christie's auction house as part of the Audrey Hepburn: The Personal Collection in October 2017.

There was a U.S. Navy submarine named Sawfish (SS-276). It was a Gato-class diesel-electric submarine commissioned in 1942. She was deployed on ten war patrols, earning eight battle stars and rescued two naval aviators while on lifeguard duty during carrier strike operations. She was decommissioned in 1946 and finally stricken and scrapped in 1960.

Television star Graham Kennedy was one of several Melbourne TV performers who appeared as extras in a night-club scene. Much of the scene was deleted, and Kennedy did not appear in the theatrical release, nor any subsequent DVD versions.

The only film that year nominated for Best Motion Picture Drama at the Golden Globes, and not Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Second film ending with Ava Gardner, her back to the camera, seeing off departing persons, or a person, she loves. The first was 1951's "Show Boat," but in between there is a third if you count her statue where her character is buried in 1954's "The Barefoot Contessa."

The song Every Day Is Like Sunday, by the singer Morrissey, is based on this film.

User reviews

  • comment
    • Author: Eng.Men
    I watched this movie in a USAF chow hall on the island of Makung in the China Strait with about 20 other airman. The year was 1960. We were stationed there on a missile site. Our targets were 7 Chinese missile sites. Their target was us.

    I was 22 years old and immortal.

    Until I watched this movie.

    When the movie ended, I will never forget the fact that no one moved for perhaps 10 minutes. There was just the bright, blank screen and the sound of the end of the film going around and around. Thiketa-thicketa-thicketa................... No one ever said a word about what we had just seen.

    We, or at least I, never forgot this movie. As said earlier, it was more than scary. It was sad.

    It seems strange now, 40 some years later, to be telling people that you really should watch this film and watch the masters at work, with a script that is chilling. And you know what? We still haven't outlived the possibility...........
  • comment
    • Author: Vobei
    I made the mistake of watching this film at 11 pm, in a theater with only 4 other people. We were scattered about...and alone. I have seldom wanted to be in a group as much as I did that night. I almost got up and went to sit in a row with one of the 4. Directing? Brilliant. Cinematography? Brilliant. The cast? Exceptional. Ava Gardner (still beautiful), Gregory Peck, Fred Astair and Anthony Perkins are inspired. I have always wanted to go to Australia. Many years later I got the chance. As the coast of Sydney came into view I started to cry...and didn't know why? Then I realized, I was 'hearing' Waltzing Matilda and remembering.
  • comment
    • Author: Larosa
    In an era (1959) and on a topic (nuclear war) that usually demands melodrama, "On the Beach" resists. In fact, the all-star principal cast and director Stanley Kramer seem to treat the topic as a stage play, focussing on the individual. And that is how such a story should be treated. Life on the northern hemisphere has been destroyed a defence mistake by one of the (then) two superpowers. Gregory Peck's nuclear-powered submarine was submerged at the time (they stayed under water for a hell of a long time in those days). The sub heads for Melbourne, Australia, which is one of the only places in the world not yet affected by radiation. But the radiation will come, and this is where the truth of the piece comes out.

    The inhabitants of 'the end of the world' go through what you would expect: denial, anger, clinging to the thinnest hope, and finally, resignation. As I said at the start, this is clearly a story about the individual. Kramer knows this, and the cast of Ava Gardner, Tony Perkins, John Meillon and Fred Astaire play it with a reality that is all too rare. Even recent films like Final Impact fail to deliver on this count. The real joy of the film is the pacing, which gives the cast the chance to play it like it should be played. Astaire proves he is an actor, and only once slips into his raised eyebrow 'top hat and tails' mode. It is a well thought out movie without the Hollywood ending, but such is the art of Kramer that the ending is a good resolution, not just a funeral. The camera work is exceptional throughout, starting with the continuous shots in Peck's submarine. I don't know about the Waltzing Matilda music at the start, however. But it does work later in the piece, and makes it worthy of the Academy Award nomination it received.
  • comment
    • Author: Nikok
    And the essence of our lives is expressed in the way we treat each other under the implacable threat of imminent mortality. As Ava Gardner's character says, at the penultimate moment of love's farewell, "It's been nice, Dwight Lionel. It's been everything." And what she says on her beach is true for every last one of us, on ours.

    The primary power of this great movie to me is how well it conveys the idea that for us, on this beach, love and tender kindness are all that matter in the end, and the end is always near. The sheer kindness that Ava and Gregory's characters express for each other is surely the key element of their triumphant relationship.

    The moment in which their relationship most completely triumphs, of course, occurs at the Narbethong Hotel. "On The Beach" achieves a cinematic moment of genius when the chorus singing "Waltzing Matilda" changes from a rowdy crowd of drunks to a magnificently harmonious group of fine male voices. As the sheer beauty of the music overwhelms us, it also overwhelms our characters, and we all unite together in a sublime moment of awareness that true love and kindness give us our only victory over imminent death. "You'll never take me alive," says the ghost.

    The way Gregory Peck's character shifts from fumbling with the fire to turning toward Ava as the music inspires transcendence, and the way Ava smiles at him, make this scene unforgettably great.

    Nearly as wonderful is the scene in which Ava's character learns that the Sawfish will be leaving, with her captain at the helm. She will have to face her death alone. She doesn't waste a moment in argument or recrimination, but expresses the fullness of her love for him and her great courage when she accepts his decision and thanks him: "'s been everything." And then: "oh, I'm so frightened." This moment is one that I take to heart. It shows the love and courage I wish to have "when the time comes."

    There is still time, brothers and sisters. But we are all on the beach.
  • comment
    • Author: Tam
    The Cold War aspects of this movie may be a bit dated, but for those of us of a certain age it is a reminder of the fears we lived under at that time. In retrospect, it may be that Julian was wrong: it may have indeed been the very presence of these terrible weapons that prevented a third world war.

    In any case, that aspect of the story never overshadows the movie's underlying theme, which is, rather, how each of us views the sum of our lives as our mortal end approaches. Are we alone? Have we connected with anyone? Have we failed? Have we loved? Have we been loved?

    Color would have been all wrong for this essentially b&w story. Superb performances from Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and the pre-Norman Bates Anthony Perkins. A fine bit as well by John Tate as the old admiral("to a blind, blind world").

    A mere cold-war nuclear destruction movie would leave one merely frightened at the end. The fact that this movie leaves you with an almost unbearable feeling of terrible sadness is a testament to the human power of Nevil Shute's book, as well as to the fine script and Kramer's superb direction.

    One of the most depressing movies ever made, but a truly great one.
  • comment
    • Author: Fordredor
    "On The Beach", despite it's heavy subject of a nuclear holocaust wiping out all human life, succeeds because Stanley Kramer is mercifully more restrained and less pretentious than he would later be in "Inherit The Wind" and "Judgment At Nuremberg", which are memorable more for their polemics than their characters, in my opinion. Except for one minor speech by Fred Astaire at one point (which as the previous reviewer noted is somewhat ironic in light of the fact that the very thing Astaire rails against, the idea that large nuclear stockpiles could keep the peace, turned out to be absolutely true) the film is for the most part about people and how they react to the knowledge that their world and their lives will soon come to an end. This is what makes the film so compelling as far as I'm concerned. The cast is excellent, with fine performances by Astaire (his first non-musical part), Anthony Perkins and Gregory Peck. But the real strength of the movie is Ava Gardner's touching performance as the lonely, alcoholic Moira Davidson who manages for one brief moment before the end to find true love with Peck. Having read much about her life, there is something almost hauntingly autobiographic in Gardner's portrayal, and that only adds to the movie's overall poignance.
  • comment
    • Author: Rit
    On The Beach was made in 1959 and it's still a fantastic movie some 46 years later. As great as all the performances are, the photography and the script are as out-standing.

    The only drawback to this black & white classic is the hauntingly depressing nature of the film. Death is never easy to explore and it's done here tastefully, gritty, and realistically. Gregory Peck shines in this controversial role. Ava Gardner gives her finest performance. Fred Astaire is incredible in this serious role. However, the film was stolen by the pre-Psycho Anthoney Perkins and newcomer Donna Anderson as a doomed young couple with a new baby. The ending of On The Beach is one of the most depressing in screen history, still this is a must see for any fan of any of the actors or the legendary Stanly Kramer.
  • comment
    • Author: Marirne
    One of the most potent movies I've ever seen. Chilling! Although appearance of movie is should be...filmed in 1956. The characters, situation, emotion are timeless. The date of the movie in no way weakens the strength of the story. Only slight weakness is the relationship between Peck and Gardner. Too much time spend on these two at times distracts from story. Still it does set up a moving ending in which devotion to duty, comrades, (in a situation where such devotion is meaningless) deepens our awareness of humanity. Not for the weak of heart. No happy endings here!! All the more powerful for its non hollywood approach, we need more of these movies. Instead of finishing the moving feeling good, we finish THINKING GOOD. Much more important goal of a movie if you ask me.
  • comment
    • Author: Malakelv
    I was/am not an actor, but I was a Fulbright at the University of Melbourne 1958-1960. When the U.S. Navy and Stanley Kramer fell out, he needed bit players with an American accent. As a result, I was recruited to play the (nameless) part of the planesman ("Depth 45 feet, Sir" and other immortal lines).

    It was great fun. I worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week (really -- though most of the time was spent playing poker -- made more money playing poker than I did for acting) for two weeks at the Melbourne Fair Grounds. Met and chatted with all the participants other than Ava Gardner, who had no truck with anyone other than her Spanish cameraman.

    I was very impressed by Kramer and his writer. As to the others, it was clear that good brains do not make good actors (though all were nice people, particularly Fred Astaire who could have made millions as a salesman if he had not made them as a dancer/actor).

    I have seen lots of times and think the best movie ever made (even better than "No Time for Sergeants", which I have seen even more times).

    Would like to hear from Jack Boyer (the submarine medical corpsman) if he happens to read this.
  • comment
    • Author: Xinetan
    The French title is "le dernier rivage"(the last shore)The intellectuals dismiss this movie in France and I've always thought they were wrong.Ava Gardner had never been better with the eventual exception of Huston's "night of the iguana".My favorite part is the central one:one of the soldiers tries to find the cause for the strange Morse signals.He crosses bleak dead San Francisco harbor (the camera takes prodigious high angle shots of him,making us share his loneliness and his hope against hope)Hope that was to be short-lived!What a symbol,this equivalent of a bottle thrown into the sea!So few special effects,ans so much emotion.Stanley Kramer's peak.
  • comment
    • Author: Nagor
    May I enter a minority report? I hate this film as much as Nevil Shute (author of the novel On the Beach) did.

    Shute's biggest complaint was the film's distortion of the character of Commander Dwight Towers. In the novel, Towers' "coping mechanism" is an alternative reality: the conviction that "when all this blows over" he was going to return to his wife and family in Connecticut; he even buys them presents to take home. "You may think I'm nuts," he tells Moira, "but that's how I see it." Moira's greatest achievement is to enter into his alternative reality and to promise to visit him in Connecticut. Indeed, to Moira's sorrow, the two do not consummate their relationship; Towers will not, cannot, cheat on his wife. The mercenary Stanley Kramer would have none of this: the film, he decided, needed sex. Gregory Peck, to his credit, tried to argue Kramer out of this distortion, but Kramer wouldn't budge.

    Like all Shute's novels, On the Beach is about ordinary people triumphing over an impossible situation. The characters in Shute's story talk of simple pleasures and go on with their lives, planting flowers and beautifying their homes, talking of "the situation" and "when it comes" in careful euphemisms, not in denial but quietly aware that soon and very soon they must make their plans about how they are going to spend the end. My favorite scene is in the furniture store, when Peter Holmes says "Can I pay with a checque?" The clerk answers in the affirmative, and they exchange their documents with dignity, like gentlemen, without bitter recriminations or snide end-of-the-world jokes and with no pathetic attempts to utter profundities. The movie, I fear, betrays the mood of the novel: in the movie, the characters do nothing from start to finish other than moping, moping and moping. This makes the film sentimental, corny and downright mushy. The novel has none of those qualities.

    Kramer made the mistake of imagining this story to be about nuclear war, or the aftermath thereof. He's utterly wrong. The story is about the triumph of the human spirit over impossible odds.
  • comment
    • Author: Cyregaehus
    Is "under-wrought" a word? If so, this movie defines it. A great cast never seems like its acting in an all-too-realistic portrayal of the fifth Kubler-Ross phase of humanity. Past denial and anger, there is finally grim acceptance, replete with just the perfect sprinkling of gallows humour. The ultimate philosophical question is raised by author Nevil Chute,"What is truly important in life, if in the end, we're all dead?"
  • comment
    • Author: Sironynyr
    In an age where sci-fi films seem to rely more on big budget special effects,and spectacular explosions,to hold an audience(usually at the expense of a decent script and plot line),On the beach is here to remind us of how it should be done.Although the plot is simple and uncomplicated, it works well on different levels,almost feeding of the paranoia that abounded at the time, concerning atomic weapons.

    It tells the story of a group of individuals,and their last few months of life.An atomic war has wiped out most of the earth,only Australia and parts of the southern hemisphere are left,but it is only a temporary reprieve,the cloud of dust which has destroyed mankind is heading their way.It is against this backdrop that the film opens,and we get to meet the main characters.Dwight Towers,the american submarine captain,played superbly by Gregory Peck,good time girl Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner),desperately looking for one last chance of love,young naval officer and new dad Peter Holmes played by a young Anthony Perkins,and Fred Astaire as the towns drunken scientist,proving he could act as well as dance.

    As these characters develop,and we start to care about them,(they are all believable and for the most part,likeable),the film starts to ask questions of the viewer.what would i do? what about my family?how would i cope?.Director Stanley Kramer plays on the very real fears of the viewer,much the same way as Byron Haskin did in War of the worlds and Robert Wise in The day the earth stood still,albeit in a more subtle fashion.

    It is in the second half of the film,when the grim reality sets in,that Kramer cranks up the tension,almost scene by scene,we witness the growing despair and anguish of these poor souls,and there are some pretty unsettling scenes,non more so than when we watch people queueing up for "suicide"pills and then again when Anthony Perkins tries to explain to his young wife how to administer them to their young daughter in his absence"when the time comes". But of course,even amidst the doom and gloom,love blossoms,and the most poignant scene in the film for me,is when Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner kiss for the first time.

    A first rate cast and script,together with a haunting soundtrack,(you'll be whistling waltzing matilda for days after watching this)makes this one of my favourite films.Don't just rent this classic,buy it and give it pride of place in your collection.
  • comment
    • Author: Lightbinder
    I watched this movie because I had just recently read the Nevil Shute book and wanted to see how much I liked it. I loved the book and expected the movie to be good too. How could you go wrong with all the good actors and a BW Sci-Fi/Drama theme to boot? I saw this movie when I was in grade school or something and also wanted to know my reaction to it now. In short, I was disappointed. It was overly melodramatic, the characters had been all changed and the plot mixed up. Nevil Shute had written a wonderful, subtle story about the end of human life on this earth and how people might cope. This movie was harsh and jangling to watch, punctuated with loud blasts of music at dramatic points when it was obvious what we were seeing. Standing alone, with no comparison to the novel, its not a bad movie. It is 2hrs 15min in length and I was not bored durring any of it. I love Gregory Peck. He did a great job of portraying an American family man trying to cope with what happened. Its almost worth it just to see what an interesting actor Tony Perkins could have been. Fred Astaire may have been the most believable. He also is worth seeing. I love his dancing, but he can be a great dramatic actor as well. To sum up: If you like this theme and these actors, then definatly watch this movie. Its not a waste of time. I just felt there was a lot of depth that could have been there and wasn't. Esteban
  • comment
    • Author: Risa
    (There are Spoilers) Emotionally packed drama about a futuristic, for the time the movie was released in 1959, nuclear war that took place in the late fall and early winter of 1963/64. With the only survivors of the conflict being in Australia waiting for the Gime Reper to come and take them away in the form of deadly radioactive clouds.

    The USS Sawfish the only surviving vessel in the US Navy makes it's way down from the North Pacific to Melbourne Harbor with it's skipper Capt. Dwight Towers, Gregory Peck, on his first day on shore leave getting involved romantically with a local Australian woman Moira Davison,Ava Gardner. Towers a native of New London CT. where the Sawfish was based knows that his wife and two children had perished in the war and is in need to find himself someone who he can spend the last few months of his life with Moira filling that need. Moira herself had been involved for some time with nuclear scientist Julian Osborne, Fred Astaire, but he's become impossible to Iive with since the war started. Julian had developed a deep guilt feelings about his involvement with and testing the hydrogen bomb that he's become a suicidal mental case in both his, like Moria, drinking and driving.

    There's also in the film the story about a young Australian couple Navy Lt. Peter Holmes and his wife Mary, Anthony Perkins & Donna Anderson, who had everything to live for.Now with the end coming they have to choose in not only taking their lives, with cyanide pills, but their infant daughter Jenny's as well. That's in order to avoid suffering the inevitable and horrific death resulting from deadly radiation poisoning.

    For the most part "On the Beach" plays like an afternoon soap opera but the fact that you, and those in the movie, know that no one in it will survive the final credits makes it a lot more personal as well as heart wrenching and involving. Getting a radio signal originating from the US Pacific Coast the Sawfish heads out to sea to find out if there's any one still left alive in the United States by sailing thousands of miles and finally surfacing in San Francisco Bay. The eerie sights, through the Sawfish's periscope, of an empty and dead city was just too much for San Francisco native seaman Ralph Swein, John Meillon, who jumped ship and swam to shore. Later telling Capt. Towers, who was shielded from the radiation inside the Sawfish, that he'd rather "get it" here, in SF, then in Australia with the rest of the sub's crew.

    The last hope of human survival on the North American Continent is dashed to pieces when Lt. Sunderstrom,Harp McGuire, goes ashore with a protective, from radiation, suit in San Diago where the mysterious SOS-like signal that's being picked up by he Sawfish is coming from. Lt. Sunderstrom is shocked to find out that its, the SOS signal, only coming from an empty coke bottle that's attached, by a window shade, to the Morse Code clicker.

    The radioactive clouds from the nuclear devastated Northern Hemisphere starts sweeping into Melbourne and the rest of Australia a lot earlier then most of the scientific experts expected them to. It's then that everybody frantically start to plan for their own deaths before the deadly radiation starts to take effect. This leads Mary Holmes to have a nervous breakdown not being able to bear to put her young daughter Jenny , more then herself and her husband Peter,to sleep forever. Julian not having any problems with the thought of his own demise, and alienating himself from all his friends and his former lover Moira, locks himself up in his garage and starts the engine of his beloved champion race car asphyxiating himself.

    Both Mary and Peter come to terms with the end by having little Jenny drink her formula, spiked with an lethal dose of sleeping pills. Then in a last and emotional embrace have a drink of hot tea with the deadly cyanide pills mixed and dissolved in it. Capt. Towers after saying a tearful good-by to Moira goes together with his men on the USS Sawfish out to sea and back home to the USA to die together with their already deceased families and loved ones as the movie sadly come to an end to the music of "Waltzing Matilda".

    Powerful and thought-provoking movie about a nuclear holocaust without a single person being killed, as a result of it, in the film. "On the Beach" may have been dated a bit after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 but has come back to haunt us with the events, and wars, that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001. With many people, on both sides of the battle-line, who never had to live through in the 1950's and 1960's the fears and nightmares of a nuclear Armageddon are now sadly reminded that it's a war that, like in the movie, nobody will win much less survive.
  • comment
    • Author: Saberdragon
    Released in 1959, the apocalypse of On the Beach allegedly took place in 1964. We missed it, but it sure doesn't mean it still can't happen. Maybe now more than ever. But probably not in the way it happens here.

    That's one of the awful things about On the Beach, they don't know what happened. Scientists among the survivors in Australia speculate, but they don't really know. Interesting however that their speculations led to the future film scenarios in Failsafe and Doctor Strangelove. But as Ava Gardner said, she didn't do anything so why is she and all the rest still left south of the equator doomed.

    Nuclear war has occurred and the result was total annihilation of life in the Northern Hemisphere. The nuclear powered submarine U.S.S. Sawfish was submerged and sailed south until land with people was found in Australia. Still people like Gregory Peck can't get it into their heads that everything they knew and loved is gone.

    Still though he finds time for a romantic interlude with Ava Gardner as the Australians and those who made it to their shore size up the situation and it ain't good and no options for hope.

    Nevil Shute's apocalyptic novel was filmed in Australia and it leaves a good ring of authenticity. Anthony Perkins gives an earnest portrayal of the young officer in the Royal Australian Navy though he does slip in and out of the Aussie accent.

    Besides the message of On the Beach the main publicity about the film concerned Fred Astaire in his first straight dramatic part. He got rave reviews from astonished critics and deservedly so, playing a nuclear scientist who know amuses himself by indulging in a secret fantasy to become an auto racer.

    This film was hated, still hated by right wing critics everywhere because of its total pessimism. The religious right particularly doesn't like this film because the apocalypse arrives and there's no divine intervention, even just to save God's Elect whomever they might be. It's just the end of life and the promise that future visitors to the planet might piece together the story of what happened as does the crew of the Starship Enterprise finding a devastated world or two on their mission to seek out life. Yes, it could happen to us.

    I think that what Stanley Kramer was trying to tell us is that whatever created this universe left it in the hands of those who inhabit it to do what they could with it or any corner thereof. It's our responsibility to find a way to live together and respect each other and our differences or annihilate ourselves. It's not easy, but it's that simple.

    Maybe we'll learn that lesson and On the Beach is a good teacher.
  • comment
    • Author: Wooden Purple Romeo
    The film is emotionally devastating, even after you've seen it a number of times. Others on this site have reviewed the plot, so I'll say that the thing which most affected me about the film is, ultimately, its nihilistic viewpoint- that Death is indeed no respecter of persons, age, ability, or good intentions. The completely innocent die along with the guilty, there is no salvation for humanity, and in the end everything mankind has done, good and bad alike, is rendered irrelevant, completely meaningless.

    The only thing I disliked were the dramatic chords and the scenes at the end- "THERE IS STILL TIME BROTHER!" Duh! We KNOW what the message was and didn't need it beaten into our heads, thank you very much!

    Personally, I'd have ended it as the submarine is sailing off into the sunset to the slow, sad strains of "Waltzing Matilda."
  • comment
    • Author: Velellan
    I find it fascinating that the films that stressed the end of the world scenario did not start popping up until 1959, the year of ON THE BEACH. Within a few years (as pointed out elsewhere on this thread), FAILSAFE and DR. STRANGELOVE came out as did the Ray Milland film, PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO. Why it took so long to discuss nuclear disaster is probably a bi-product of the McCarthy Period. To question nuclear deterrent was to be a pawn or supporter of the Communists in Russia and elsewhere. Interestingly the sole movie I can think of prior to 1959 about nuclear war was the comedy THE ATOMIC KID with Micky Rooney and Robert Strauss, and the plot there was that Rooney survived an atomic blast at ground zero after eating peanut butter sandwiches. That's hardly a serious film discussion on the dangers of fallout.

    It also helped that the Stanley Kramer film ON THE BEACH was based on a very popular best seller. I have mentioned elsewhere that Nevil Shute was a popular novelist of the late 1940s and 1950s, but best recalled (at least up to 1954) as one of the best writers on airplane-based stories like NO HIGHWAY. He began to surprise critics with two novels that remain popular to this day, but have nothing to do with aircraft: ON THE BEACH (about nuclear holocaust) and A TOWN NAMED ALICE (about life in the back-lands of Shute's native Australia).

    ON THE BEACH is a dramatic story that eschews over-dramatizing. The characters are facing the final crisis of Earth, and there is no quick fix or solution. Everyone is going to die. There is no massive outbreak of lawlessness - everyone seems resigned to the inevitable. And I think that is why the story works...when you see people running amok and in panic you are inclined to be amused at how people can't control their fears (despite the fact that we would all be in a state of near panic at such a time). By seeing the resignation of the characters, and how it releases them to make admissions to each other before it is too late, drives this ultimate tragedy home.

    Everyone becomes honest. Nuclear physicist Fred Astaire (in a stunningly good dramatic performance) is asked who he thought was the most dangerous man in the 20th Century. He looks blasé while answering (without naming someone like Hitler or Stalin) "Albert Einstein" - the ultimate atomic theorist and scientist of the century. A sailor who comes from San Francisco sees the town is totally dead when Gregory Peck takes the submarine he commands into the harbor. Shortly afterward the sailor jumps off the submarine, and swims back to the shore. Peck does not stop him - subsequently he speaks to the sailor who is sitting on the shore "fishing". The sailor knows he'll be dead soon but he's comfortable because he's at home. Peck leaves him there, knowing that the sailor will be happier to die in his home town than thousands of miles away in Australia.

    The confrontation of truth in the dying days of earth becomes painful, as colleagues reveal their affection and love for each other. We also see how several (including Astaire) decide to speed their ends to avoid the pain of nuclear contamination and slow death. It is one of the grimmest, and most effective film endings of modern movies - and the last image of the banner stating there is still time (meant to be for religious reflection actually) haunts the audiences that watch this film to this day.
  • comment
    • Author: Zinnthi
    In 1964, the nuclear submarine USS Sawfish arrives in Australia after the worldwide nuclear holocaust. Commander Dwight Lionel Towers (Gregory Peck) confirms that the world has been destroyed and the nuclear dust is coming to Australia. The widower Cmdr. Towers, who grieves the death of his wife and children, is befriended by Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins), who is a family man with wife and the newborn baby Jennifer. He has a lover affair with the local Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner), a still beautiful alcoholic woman with a past, and she falls in love with him.

    Cmdr. Towers and his crew invite the drunkard scientist Julian Osborne (Fred Astaire) to join them in their reconnaissance voyage to the further North and to the United States, and they return hopeless and aware that Australia and the rest of the mankind has very few days until the doomsday.

    "On the Beach" is a powerful anti-war film released in the Cold War period. It is dated in the present days but I believe how scary this realistic film might have been in the climax of the Cold War in the 60's. The idea of people taking "sleeping pills" supplied by the government is one of the scariest things I have ever seen in a movie. When Lt. Peter Holmes explains to his housewife and mother, a typical woman of the 50's and 60's, what she should do with the baby and herself, her reaction probably reflects a great part of the female universe in this period. My vote is seven.

    Title (Brazil): "A Hora Final" ("The Final Hour")
  • comment
    • Author: Shaktizragore
    Clearly. I remembered "On the Beach" to this very day when I saw it as young teenager back in 1959. I grew up during the Cold War era at a time when we had school drills hiding under our desks or rushing to a makeshift bomb shelter when the sirens sounded their alerts throughout the community. This movie I believe is more meaningful to those of us who lived through that period than to those who did not because the emotions of that time are hard to capture or imagine otherwise.

    The center piece to this movie that still indelibly sticks with me is when Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck meet for their last and final farewell at the dock before the SawFish crew departs back for the U.S. where they decided to spend the remaining days of their lives . In retrospect,this scene still haunts me because I remember it evoked so many mixed and simultaneous emotions of loneliness, immense sadness, honor, duty, love and finally their endearing humanity to each other that tragically and inevitably must end by forces and circumstances beyond their control. There is a sense of despair and helplessness that I remembered having as I exited the theater, even at that young age, which says a lot about the movie. I believe now that Stanley Kramer metaphorically summed up the entire theme in the movie from this scene : there is that indefinable humanity in all of us, arising out of tragic consequences from events that we did not intend or want. I never watched (or wanted to) this movie again until last night on TMC ... almost 50 years later. It was powerful. Ava, Greg, Fred, Tony et. al. deserve more than accolades for their impeccable performances. For those expecting a high-tech disaster movie from "On the Beach", they will be disappointed.
  • comment
    • Author: Use_Death
    The most visually stunning and endearing story ever made concerning the scariest scenario facing humanity. Peck, Gardner, Perkins, and Astaire are outstanding. But it's Astaire's role that exemplifies brilliant casting. His frail, yet, intelligent demeanor, makes him effective. His success as a dancer in musicals is strangely eclipsed by his performance as a sensitive and troubled scientist. We soon forget that he ever danced a step.

    Kramer understood how to portray ideas clearly. As backdrop to a trout fishing scene, young scouts are seen hiking through a stream. In view of their impending doom, this portrays a stark, heart-wrenching absurdity. Indeed, this and the subsequent scene, with Peck and Gardner, are used to contrast classic opposites, specifically life and love with death and hopelessness.

    Hollywood will probably consider a remake, considering its propensity to propagandize. However, On the Beach is more of a message film than propaganda. In the final scenes, as the backwash of a submerging sub transforms into trash blowing down a desolate street where a Salvation Army banner reads: "There is Still Time Brother," the message is there for all to perceive, unbiasedly.

    Oy! And just recently (Nov 2007) I found out that there is a remake. Not too good according to the critics.
  • comment
    • Author: Ttyr
    When I was in college, I remember hearing about a book (also movie) called On the Beach. The movie has Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astair, Anthony Perkins...and I'd heard it was good.

    I really need to try to remember which movies are recommended by college profs in the future.

    The movie was long, meandering, depressing (though there was some dark humor in it), and, overall, pointless.

    Can I give you a spoiler? If you really want to see the movie (which I don't recommend unless you're looking for a penance), skip the rest of this review.

    When the movie opens, nuclear war has already occurred. (The movie was made in 1959 but takes place in early 1964.) The entire Northern Hemisphere has been nuked, and everyone is dead. Not a soul alive anywhere. (Why this happened is apparently explained in the book, though it's never clearly explained in the movie.) A lone nuclear-powered US sub shows up in Australia, the only place on earth where people are still alive.

    Turns out that the Aussies are expecting to get the fallout from the nuclear war within five months, and so everyone is pretty much living in their last days. Ava Gardener plays a woman who never settled down, and suddenly she wants to with Peck. Problem is, he's married with two children, and talks as though they are all still alive. In one of the few vaguely touching moments, he admits that he'd always been prepared for his own death, leaving his family behind. He can't deal with them being gone and him being alive instead. Unfortunately, his "choking back tears" thing looked a bit more like "holding back chunks."

    Anthony Perkins and his young wife have a baby girl, and he worries about how soon the radiation will come and kill them all. The acting for both of them was old-fashioned wooden stuff. Astair's character had always wanted to race, and in yet another what-has-this-to-do-with-the-story scene, he races in a Grand Prix with a Ferrari he picked up for "a hundred quid." He wins, but there is - I kid you not - zero emotion from him throughout the entire scene.

    A strange Morse Code message is picked up and estimated to be from around San Diego, but it is gibberish. In a last-ditch, the US sub is commissioned to go see who is alive and sending this garbled tapping. The sub first surfaces near San Francisco. Beautiful town. Big bridge, trolley cars, pretty row houses...really. After a nuclear war. Lots of loud and suspenseful (award-winning??) music, too, in between absolute silence. The sub moves on to San Diego. They suit up one guy and send him out to try to figure out who's sending Morse Code out. After a bit of searching, he discovers the source of the Code. A Coke bottle has fallen down, catching in the rope-pull of a window shade. The wind is blowing occasionally, creating the tapping sound.

    Another pointless occurrence.

    They head back, and everyone goes back to "life." Gregory Peck apparently comes to terms with the complete annihilation of his family and moves in with Ava Gardner. More meandering.

    Finally, someone comes up sick. The radiation is here, and it's earlier than thought. And now comes the creepy part.

    Everyone is planning to commit suicide. The government is readying pills for everyone to take to kill themselves. Parents plan the murder of their own children. And everyone lines up to get their little pills while (in the only appearance of faith of any kind in the movie comes up) the Salvation Army Band plays under a big banner that reads "THERE IS STILL TIME ... BROTHER"

    Some preacher from the Salvation Army goes on about people turning to God, looking for answers as to why we did this to ourselves, etc. No real answers are given, no real theology is even touched. We see absolutely NO other religion of any kind in the movie, and this portrayal is shallow, at best.

    So we see Anthony Perkins and his movie-wife sitting down for tea, small pillbox on hand. They talk about how they met, etc. They are not even sick. They feel fine, show no symptoms, but we know they are about to kill themselves.

    We move on, and the sub crew is approached by Peck, their captain, and they decide that they'd like to go back to the US to die there. In spite of being in love with Gardner, Peck just flat leaves her. "I love you, but I have to go with them. They want to go." Yeah, whatever.

    So he sails off as she stands crying and watching him go away forever.

    Fred Astair climbs into his Ferrari in the garage and kills himself without the help of a pill. Happy smiles for ol' Fred as he revs up the engine.

    And then we are treated to scenes of empty streets. Papers blowing in the wind. Tables from the pill stations still there, now unmanned. Every human being on earth is either dead or on his way to death.

    And the last thing we see is the banner blowing in the breeze.


    Oh! I get it now! It's a CAUTIONARY TALE! No wonder my liberal college professor loved this movie.

    Depressing, pointless...just the thing for the guilt-laden Left-wing liberal.

    As for me, all I can say is that I'll never get those two hours back again.
  • comment
    • Author: Brol
    Again, the 'End of the World ' as we know it, has arrived. Where to start? Where to start? Nowhere, because that's where this movie is going.

    So one man in a protective suit goes ashore. Now I can understand, due to a radiation cloud, everybody is dead. But NO bodies? Not even from pets?It would stink to high heaven. And then the machinery (from a power-plant?) is running at full blast. SOMETHING would overload by then, and fires would break out. So the man throws 2, and only 2 switches and turns off the power to the whole city.

    This is a S L O W soap opera.

    Want to see a better movie? 'Panic in Year Zero!' was a much better picture.

    And I have to mention, at that time, 1959, there WOULD be bomb shelters, and some survivors.

    I'll give it 2 stars for Fred Astaire's fine acting. (And the vintage race car event. As a matter of fact, that was the best part!)
  • comment
    • Author: Thordira
    This has to be one of the most excruciatingly BORING and slow-paced movie I have ever seen. As a fan of the cold-war era type movies, I expected much more out of this movie than it delivered. There was way too much focus on the individual character's day-to-day lives than the main plot, which was actually very interesting and had a great deal of potential. Also, I realize this is an overall bleak situation, but Ava Gardner's almost continual drunkenness (typical) did not help make the movie more tolerable.

    In my opinion this move would have been much better suited to a 30-minute Twilight Zone episode, than the lengthy movie that it is.

    Sorry, but as much as I admire the actors a lot, but really hated this move.
  • comment
    • Author: Jerinovir
    Very boring movie with Gregory Peck about nuclear holocaust aftermath. No emotion was raised except boredom because the characters are rather dull and there is no real drama or even spark of life in this movie. In the movie a doctor says "we aren't machines" talking about how each person will get sick differently from the radiation depending on their individual constitution but it was ironic because the characters may as well have been robots on account of how much vitality and emotion they displayed. Gregory Peck especially seemed like an automaton and in the one scene where he is supposed to be emotional struggled mightily to emote even a mild distress. Over two hours long, the movie drags and caused me to feel tired and sleepy. None of the scenes are memorable and it felt quite dated and old. A far superior film dealing with the subject of nuclear war from the same time period is "Fail-Safe", a movie that seems fresh, vital and exciting even today. This movie is not in the same league, not even close.
  • Cast overview, first billed only:
    Gregory Peck Gregory Peck - Cmdr. Dwight Lionel Towers
    Ava Gardner Ava Gardner - Moira Davidson
    Fred Astaire Fred Astaire - Julian Osborn
    Anthony Perkins Anthony Perkins - Lt. Peter Holmes
    Donna Anderson Donna Anderson - Mary Holmes
    John Tate John Tate - Adm. Bridie
    Harp McGuire Harp McGuire - Lt. Sunderstrom
    Lola Brooks Lola Brooks - Lt. Hosgood
    Ken Wayne Ken Wayne - Lt. Benson
    Guy Doleman Guy Doleman - Lt. Cmdr. Farrel
    Richard Meikle Richard Meikle - Davis
    John Meillon John Meillon - Ralph Swain
    Joe McCormick Joe McCormick - Ackerman
    Lou Vernon Lou Vernon - Bill Davidson
    Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan - Dr. King
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