On The Beach (1959)

on the beach 1959

Nevil Shute’s best seller about the end of the world in 1964 following an atomic war. The only people left are in Australia as the radioactive cloud heads their way. Great acting from all concerned especially Fred Astaire.

Captain Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck) is Captain of the nuclear sub USS Swordfish. Lt.Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) of the Royal Australian Navy is assigned to the ship. He has a young wife named Mary (Donna Anderson) and a baby named Jennifer.

He invites Dwight to his home for the weekend. Dwight is met at the train station by Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner). Mary and Peter thought he would enjoy spending time with her. The Holmes’ are having a party at their house. One of the guest is scientist Julian Osborne (Fred Astaire). He has too much to drink and brings things to a halt by spouting off about the war and its aftermath.

Dwight and Moira are getting to know each other. He talks like his wife and kids are still alive and Moira, having too much to drink, eventually passes out. The next day she visits him on the sub. The Admiral calls him away for a few moments. There’s a signal coming through. It’s origin is near San Diego. It doesn’t make any sense and he’s told to investigate.

Suicide pills are being made ready for everyone when the end gets closer. They figure it’ll happen in five months. Through connections Peter gets some for Mary and explains what they are. She says she can’t bring herself to give one to their baby. He explains the symptoms of incurable radiation sickness. He got them just in case he’s not back in time.

That night Dwight tells Moira that he knows the reality of things but can’t cope with the fact his family is dead. She gets upset and goes to see Julian in his garage. He keeps a Ferrari there. He has always had a thing for her and she asks if that’s still true. He says in a normal world that would be true but not now. He takes her home. He’s due to leave in a few hours on the sub.

The sub goes to Point Barrow and finds that the radiation levels are way too high. Now they head for San Francisco. One of the men, Swain goes through the escape hatch. It’s his hometown. To the movie’s credit the scene is not the typical crewman goes nuts and runs screaming into the water. He makes a rational decision to go home. He’s the only one in the city. Some of the crew try and figure out how the war actually started. Julian gives his theory.

The sub now goes to San Diego. Lt.Sunderstrom suits up and goes ashore to track down the source of the signal. Good sequence. The sub heads back for Australia.

Dwight reunites with Moira, Peter and Mary do their best to cope and Julian enters his Ferrari in a race. It’s a good auto race sequence. The radiation is getting closer. One man on the sub gets sick.

Producer-Director Stanley Kramer and screenwriter John Paxton never let the movie fall into maudlin soap opera. No hysterics and no overly stoic characters. The final section is very effective. This movie is definitely one to see.

The opening credits says “Introducing Donna Anderson.” She didn’t do a whole lot. She was a regular on the TV series “The Travels Of Jamie McPheeters” as Jenny (1963-64)



About vintage45

I'm a big fan of vintage books,movies,TV shows and music. I encourage everyone to patronize your local used book/record store and pick up some of the good stuff. My posts are capsule reviews of some favorites that you may want to investigate. The albums posted aren't really reviews but items from my collection that are still available. I try and point out highlights of each one and let the music speak for itself. Thanks to all for checking out the blog.
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5 Responses to On The Beach (1959)

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    Have you read the original novel? I haven’t — but, I sort of enjoyed the movie. Although the sound track needed some work (it almost made it a maudlin soap opera)! haha.

    • vintage45 says:

      I read the novel a loooong time ago so I don’t remember much of how it compared to the movie., As far as the movie goes I’ll admit a little bit of “Waltzing Matilda” went a long way. Sometime silence is golden.

  2. dfordoom says:

    The movie is worth seeing for Ava Gardner. Apart from that it’s typical Stanley Kramer so it’s pretty heavy-handed.

  3. vintage45 says:

    I thought Fred Astaire gave the best non dancing performance of his career. No complaints about Ava.

  4. table9mutant says:

    I’ve always wanted to see this one. 🙂 I love anything apocalyptic!

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