The war is over. Nobody won. Only the inhabitants of Australia and the men of the US submarine Sawfish have escaped the nuclear destruction and radiation. Captain Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck) takes the Sawfish on a mission... more » to see if an approaching radiation cloud has weakened, but returns with grim news: the cloud is lethal. With the days and hours dwindling, each person confronts the grim situation in his or her own way. One (Fred Astaire) realizes a lifetime Grand Prix ambition,another (Ava Gardner) reaches out for a chance at love. The final chapter of human history is coming to a close... From acclaimed director Stanley Kramer (The Defiant Ones, Inheritthe Wind) and screenwriter John Paxton comes this spectacular movie landmarka film masterpiece with a message that will resonate as long as the world has the power to self-destruct at its own fingertips.« less
Kendra M. (KendraM) from NASHVILLE, TN Reviewed on 1/13/2008...
I read Nevil Shute's book several years ago and thought it amazing. Recently, when culling some books from my bookshelves, I re-read it once again one afternoon. When I read the book the first time, I didn't even know of this classic film. However, I had learned of it since I reading the book the last time, so I ordered this film and, based on others' reviews, the film with Armand Assante and Rachel Ward.
First of all, Gregory Peck and Anthony Perkins were WONDERFUL. Peck had the appeal he had in To Kill A Mockingbird-- strong, sensitive, smart-- all of those good qualities. I've never seen Anthony Perkins like this before. I remember I saw him in one little unmemorable movie (besides Psycho) years ago and liked him, but he was just perfect here. Truly likeable and empathetic and believable. So much so, that I asked my husband why he thought Perkins was typecast after Psycho since he was so talented and appealing. He thought Perkins may have gotten too swishy afterwards and lost his audience appeal (not an indictment or criticism, just a commentary on the times).
The woman who played Perkins wife was also good, as was Ava Gardner. But, herein lies my criticism. I didn't think Ava Gardner was quite as believable as the rest of the cast in her role, although she was definitely adequate. And, I think her role might be the most difficult of all-- she must be a bit brash, bold, regretful, lonely, yet still appealing. Moira is a woman nearing middle age and yearning for a bit of love and comfort before imminent death. I thought Gardner's performance was alright, but I also thought it lacked some depth. Whenever on screen, I found myself studying her performance and critiquing it rather than losing myself in the film.
The story is truly staggering. Taking place in Australia, the citizens are the last known society waiting for imminent death by radioactive fallout which is slowly moving across the earth. Everyone else is dead and they, too, will be dead soon. This film is about how this small group of people spend their last months.
Shute's book is not perfectly written. I remember he calls the baby "it" so many times it was a bit disturbing. Parents don't refer to the baby as "it" too many times after he or she is born! However, certain characters and the story itself are so memorable, despite the book's flaws, that it is a must-read.
The movie, although good and completely recommended, has lost something in the move from book to film. There were certain elements of the book that should have remained in the movie-- not major things, but little details which stayed with the reader long after the book was over. One is how Captain Towers dealt with the memory of his family (who was in America when the bombs hit) and how Capt. Towers spoke of September (the estimated date of radioactive fallout arrival).
Also lost here was how the people dealt with the illnesses of their friends and families and how they planned to deal with their own impending illnesses. Perkins and Anderson dealt with it, since that was the major story line for them in the book. However, while suicide pills were a major factor in the book, it was less so here. And, there is something about a government handing out suicide pills to its citizens that is so awful, and watching the people making their decisions, that I thought it should have been given more focus.
The ending is true to the book, for the most part. The changes made here didn't have to be made and I wonder why the screenwriter or director decided to make them. They are minor changes, but important. I don't want to include a spoiler, but the ending of this film was less emotional than the ending of the book-- and my opinion is based on a certain action that was omitted rather than any performances.
I wound up watching both this movie and the remake of it within the same two weeks. Honestly, the newer remake was better with the exception of Armand Assante's performance (which was OKAY, but not of Peck's caliber.). Both are worth seeing. If you can take two stories about Armageddon, order both these films.
3 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.
A thought-provoking film
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The epigraph at the beginning of the book, "On the Beach" is part of a poem from T.S. Eliot: "this is how the world ends; not with a bang, but a whimper." I read the book first, then watched the movie, and would recommend both to everyone. The movie is a fair portrayal of the book, and the cast is outstanding. Fred Astaire is a real surprise in this, his first dramatic performance. Ava Gardner is beautiful and believable as the drunk, but in denail, Moira. My favorite characters are Tony Perkins and actress who plays his wife. The scene in which Perkins explains to his wife how to use the suicide tablets sent chills up and down my spine. Two things really stand out for me in this movie: The first being the use of "Waltzing Matilda." At times it's played with all the fanfare of a national anthem; at other times, it sounds funereal. The use of "Waltzing Matilda" reaches its climax during a scene in the movie when Moira takes Captain Towers trout fishing, mistakenly thinking they could get away to the mountains for some private time outdoors before the nuclear cloud arrives in Australia and pretty much eliminates humankind. Instead of peace and tranquility, they find drunken revelers...and throughout this revelery, they're singing "Waltzing Matilda." It's funny at first...then increasingly annoying...until one last tenor sings the final verse solo. I don't think I've ever seen a finer scene is a film. The impact of that verse, the way it's tenderly sung, and the shared look between Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck---I will never be able to listen to "Waltzing Matilda" again without tears in my eyes. The second thing is although the subject matter and the tone of the movie are serious, there are a few amusing moments, which for me, make the movie even more realistic. On the Beach is a classic...and anyone who loves film, and worries about the future of our children...should watch and ponder...could this really happen? The answer is a terrifying "yes"."
The ultimate Cold War film
Alejandra Vernon | Long Beach, California | 06/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the film that for me captures the terror I felt as a child, growing up at the height of the Cold War; it is bleak and intense, with scenes that are forever etched in my mind. It's one of the great films of that era ("Seven Days in May" and "Fail Safe" are others) that I can watch repeatedly, and their power and impact are never diminished.
Based on Nevil Shute's best seller, and brilliantly directed by Stanley Kramer, the use of sound effects combined with Ernest Gold's Oscar nominated score is very effective. Sometimes the simplest noise set against complete silence is ominous, and gives the feeling of the desolation of empty cities.
As time runs out, people try to avoid the "morbid discussion" of what awaits them, and some make the most of those precious days, weeks and months, like the elderly scientist Julian (in an exceptional performance by Fred Astaire), who completes his dream of being a race car driver.Both strong and tender, Gregory Peck is fabulous as Dwight Towers, the commander of a submarine, who has trouble accepting that he is alive, while his family are victims of the "monstrous war". The woman who falls in love with him is Ava Gardner, who has spent far too much time being consoled by a bottle of brandy. The plot is filled out by Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson, a young couple facing the fact that their baby has no future.
In the late 50s and early 60s, the scenario in this film was all too real; we face other dangers now, but there was something truly chilling about those Cold War years, and this film vividly brings back the memory of them. Total running time is 134 minutes."
On The Beach...revisited
Alejandra Vernon | 06/05/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I first saw " Onthe Beach" (OTB) after reading the Nevile Shute novel. I remember Pauline Kael saying in one of her more vitupritive reviews, "will anyone in the future remember On the Beach as anything but a bad movie". I was confused. Perhaps my response at the time had been the sentimental attachment of a high-schooler (after all, that "Waltzing Matida" theme can get to you). But now, Pauline, I can answer yer question. OTB is really not about the end of the world...but rather about the end of each of our worlds. "Fail Safe", "Dr Strangelove", etc...these are the movies about the end of the world. But this film is just about the end of one life...A few lives. And how we watch these finalities played out is like a chess game. Sure,there are moments spiced with Kramer's understandable ham-fisted "MESSAGE" about Nuclear War...but also we experience the slight, breathless moments when we know something forever is lost. I liked it a lot then... I like it now, too. Less for its attacks on radioactive death...more, for its reflections of how we may face our own "end". Remember, this film came out at at time when most American films were glamorizing pillow talks and chariot races and west side stories. These films, as well as the exquisite foreign films of the time also hold up...on their own levels. But there is a poignancy, perhaps not then intended, with all the lead actors either dead or retired that gives a new message to the quote from which the novel and film arose: "Here by the Sea, by the tumult river, here on the beach......sorry, misquoted, but intent on making a point. Looking forward to other comments. I believe the quote ends with the phrase, "Life ends not with a bang, but a whimper"."
An excellent movie, of it's own era.
Michael J. Keyes | Portland, OR USA | 11/05/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I suspect that the reason so many ... customer reviews of On the Beach are negative is that the expectations of today's audiences, particularly younger audiences, are entirely different from when this movie was released, in 1959. The movie is based quite closely on Neville Shute's excellent novel, with just a few differences. The rather strange denial of impending death, shown by most of the characters in the book, has been wisely omitted from the movie. The scientist, John Osborne, has had his name changed to Julian in the film, and is given more depth, beautifully played by Fred Astaire. I think today's movie goers have difficulty relating to this movie because it is not an action movie and it is not a science fiction movie. Yes, it deals with the last survivors of a nuclear war as they await their own deaths. But the genre of science fiction films requires that the heroes and/or heroines confront the Problem and conquer it, whether that Problem be giant ants, invading Martians, or mutant carnivorous plants. In On the Beach, it is made plain from the beginning of both the book and the movie that there will be no triumph or escape. Instead, the theme is the maintaining of human decency and integrity in the face of imminent death. This is not the sort of stuff for young audiences raised on Bruce Lee movies. I think it is important, too, that today's young movie-goers watch this movie with the idea firmly in mind that people in 1959 believed that they might very well be the last generation of human beings, before a nuclear holocaust wiped us all out. I was nineteen when I first saw the film, just after its release to theaters and long before the advent of VHS and home video. It was powerful stuff back then, and I don't think there's any doubt that it was an important element in the nuclear disarmament movement. I highly recommend this movie. The acting and direction are excellent, and it deals with powerful themes. But keep in mind that you'll be watching a film from another era, when books and movies were deliberately slower paced and the depth of characterization was considered to be much more important than fast paced action."
One of the best
C. J. Leach | Midwest, United States | 04/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1959 B&W film is a faithful adaptation of Nevil Shute's book by the same title. I read the book 25 years ago, loved it, and finally got around to watching this movie recently. I was awestruck.
Although directed by Stanley Kramer, I did not find it to be an over the top anti-war piece. It's a story based in Australia, the last island of life in a post nuclear war world. But even Australia's days are numbered. Melbourne is visited by a surviving U.S. nuclear submarine, in search of surviving population.
The cast is top shelf, including Gregory Peck (the submarine commander), Ava Gardner. Anthony Perkins, and Fred Astaire. There are a few scenes which are among the most moving I have ever seen on film, such as when Peck is trying to relate/supress his feelings to Gardner regarding his now dead family back in the U.S., and when Perkins is explaining the "suicide option" to his wife (w/ baby). Virtuoso writing/directing/acting. There is a little action including an exciting investigative mission back to the U.S., and a road race involving Astaire.
I liked the black and white film, and the 50's feel to this great classic. And there is a clear "Australian" aura that is quite pleasing. Throughout, there is a masterful recurring musical backdrop of "Waltzing Matilda", in variations ranging from the bawling to the sublime. All the while, looms the inevitable ending.
It must be difficult to put a powerful ending on a story such as this, since the outcome would seem to be rather predictable. However, I found the closing minutes to be surprisingly well done, with some superb cinematography. At the end, I was not left in an anti-war rage . . . just sad, reflective, and very pleased with the movie. Highly recommended."