Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astair, in one of the bleakest films produced by Hollywood during that period.
With the exception of Australia, the entire planet has been decimated by nuclear war, the origin and details of which are adroitly never explained, and simply blamed on the absurdity and stupidity of humankind. A US submarine escaped the devastation and makes its way towards Melbourne where the locals have only a few months to live until the radiation reaches their country.
Tightly directed by Stanley Kramer, the director of Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Whoâ€™s Coming to Dinner (1967), On the Beach maintains its serious and dark premise until the end, never letting cheap and easy sentimentalism take over and never trying to provide a false sense of hope or of a greater moral truth. In addition, and that is commendable for a film from that period, it does not choose sides and refuses to engage in â€˜we are better than themâ€™ or â€˜itâ€™s all their faultâ€™ type messages.
Instead, the film focuses on a handful of people and how they choose to spend their last months of life and the decisions they face during that time. While the overall emotional intensity feels a bit subdued at times, a feeling reinforced by the decision to avoid showing scenes of madness, folly or desperation (unlike, for example, in The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), another serious film from that period that deals with somewhat similar themes, where various scenes of chaos and rioting are shown, or in The Day After (1983), the made for TV film that shocked America with its realistic and disturbing scenes of apocalypse, or even in Peter Watkinsâ€™s groundbreaking docu-drama The War Game (1965)), the narrative nonetheless works effectively by keeping it all fairly understated, and, well, bleak.
Gardner and Peck are quite a charismatic couple to watch and I can only admire their liberal willingness to play in such a film.