Thursday, May 1, 2008

On the Beach

On the Beach; Science-fiction drama, USA, 1959; D: Stanley Kramer, S: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, Fred Astaire, Donna Anderson

Melbourne, '64. People listen to the news over the radio: the atomic war is over, but the whole northern hemisphere has been polluted with nuclear fallout, leaving the Australian state the only remaining civilisation on Earth. The Captain of an American submarine, Dwight Towards, arrives in town and starts a relationship with Moira. He and his crew, accompanied by Peter, who left his wife and baby with a suicide pill if the contamination reaches their town, direct the submarine towards San Francisco where a mysterious Morse code signal is detected - but it turns out to be just a Coca-Cola bottle. They return back to Melbourne and await the deadly radioactive cloud from the north.

With this post-apocalyptic premise, science-fiction drama "On the Beach" could have easily been an excellent dark film, yet in the end it was heavily overstretched with too much (melo)drama and too little science-fiction. Director Stanley Kramer solidly adapted Nevil Shute's novel with the same title, never showing the sole Atomic war, but just the consequence of it, the remaining people on the southern hemisphere awaiting the deadly radiation from the north, never blaming either side for starting it, while the anxiety comes in small dose, like in the seemingly trivial party sequence where one drunk man starts arguing with another one over how it was all an accident and how "now the radiation in this room in 9 times higher than normal". But kitsch, stiff rhythm, lack of sense for suspense and boring details prevent the film to ever reach the heights of it's ambitions, turning into more of a social relevance than a cinema relevance. Here and there one can find a few inspiring moments, like when Julius angrily comments: "This all started with the idiotic notion that peace can be defended by weapons", when rations of fuel and food are cut down in the city or when Captain Dwight spots that one of his sailors secretly fled from the submarine into the polluted and empty San Francisco to "go back home", yet the movie is never dark enough as it should be. Actress Ava Gardner was nominated for a BAFTA, while the movie as best motion picture - drama, director and supporting actor Fred Astaire were nominated for a Golden Globe.


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