1 September 2000 | hander27
simply, one of the finest examples of the genre ever made.
In an age where sci-fi films seem to rely more on big budget special effects,and spectacular explosions,to hold an audience(usually at the expense of a decent script and plot line),On the beach is here to remind us of how it should be done.Although the plot is simple and uncomplicated, it works well on different levels,almost feeding of the paranoia that abounded at the time, concerning atomic weapons.
It tells the story of a group of individuals,and their last few months of life.An atomic war has wiped out most of the earth,only Australia and parts of the southern hemisphere are left,but it is only a temporary reprieve,the cloud of dust which has destroyed mankind is heading their way.It is against this backdrop that the film opens,and we get to meet the main characters.Dwight Towers,the american submarine captain,played superbly by Gregory Peck,good time girl Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner),desperately looking for one last chance of love,young naval officer and new dad Peter Holmes played by a young Anthony Perkins,and Fred Astaire as the towns drunken scientist,proving he could act as well as dance.
As these characters develop,and we start to care about them,(they are all believable and for the most part,likeable),the film starts to ask questions of the viewer.what would i do? what about my family?how would i cope?.Director Stanley Kramer plays on the very real fears of the viewer,much the same way as Byron Haskin did in War of the worlds and Robert Wise in The day the earth stood still,albeit in a more subtle fashion.
It is in the second half of the film,when the grim reality sets in,that Kramer cranks up the tension,almost scene by scene,we witness the growing despair and anguish of these poor souls,and there are some pretty unsettling scenes,non more so than when we watch people queueing up for "suicide"pills and then again when Anthony Perkins tries to explain to his young wife how to administer them to their young daughter in his absence"when the time comes". But of course,even amidst the doom and gloom,love blossoms,and the most poignant scene in the film for me,is when Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner kiss for the first time.
A first rate cast and script,together with a haunting soundtrack,(you'll be whistling waltzing matilda for days after watching this)makes this one of my favourite films.Don't just rent this classic,buy it and give it pride of place in your collection.