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On the Beach

Entry updated 11 March 2017. Tagged: Film.

1. BBC Radio dramatization by Mike Walker in the Classic Serial anthology programme, as On the Beach (1957).

2. Film (1959). Lomitas Productions/United Artists. Directed by Stanley Kramer. Written by John Paxton, based on On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute. Cast includes Fred Astaire, Guy Doleman, Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck and Anthony Perkins. 134 minutes. Black and white.

1964, the Near Future: only Australia has survived a global nuclear World War Three. This merely prolongs the agony: a cloud of radioactive fallout is moving south and everyone will die. Suicide pills are handed out; people face death (or run to meet it) with varying degrees of dignity, though tears are shed; big-name Hollywood stars (the plot provides reasons for the number of Americans facing the end in Melbourne) look anguished; the wind blows newspapers through empty streets. On the Beach was the most celebrated of the 1950s anti-Bomb films, heavily publicized, much discussed, seen as Art, and certainly effective propaganda in the Cold War nuclear-weapons debate. It has not weathered well; seen today it appears slow, mawkish, ludicrously stiff-upper-lip, and unrealistic in a sanitized middle-class way: no riots, no looting, just chaps feeling miserable and driving racing cars in a reckless manner. The Australian legend that Ava Gardner, while shooting, looked around and said of Melbourne "What a great place to make a movie about the end of the world" is untrue. Peter Nicholls appeared in a crowd scene. [PN]


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