Cast & Crew
In January 1964, the fallout from a nuclear war has obliterated life in the Northern Hemisphere and lethal clouds of irradiated dust are slowly making their way to the Southern Hemisphere, threatening the inhabitants of Australia. Dwight Towers, the captain of the American nuclear submarine U.S.S. Sawfish , which had been trolling the South Pacific during the conflict, contacts the Royal Australian Navy and is welcomed to their main harbor in Williamstown. Admiral Bridie assigns young Lt. Peter Holmes to liaison with Dwight and the Sawfish crew for a reconnaissance mission to track the deadly radiation circling the globe, which is predicted to reach Australia in five months. When Bridie admits that he has no idea how long the mission will take, Peter expresses his desire to be home with his anxious wife Mary and their infant daughter Jennifer when the fatal radiation reaches Australia. While the Sawfish is readied for the mission, Peter spends time with Mary, who insists they not discuss world events and live as if all were normal. When Peter admits that he has invited Dwight to spend the weekend with them, Mary decides to "fix him up" with the lively Moira Davidson. Moira obligingly meets Dwight at the train station and he is surprised when she provides a horse-drawn buggy to drive him to Holmes's house. That evening at a party thrown by Peter and Mary, scientist Julian Osborn drunkenly tells several guests that the war was a dreadful mistake that scientists continually warned against. Distressed by the talk, Mary demands that they must remain hopeful about the future. Later, after the party, a tipsy Moira informs Dwight that she and Julian have the reputation as the town drunks and asks him for details of how the Sawfish survived. Dwight's optimistic talk of his wife and two children and detailed plans for his son trouble Moira, because it is believed that everyone in America is dead. Continuing to drink heavily, Moira asks Dwight why Australia must linger, waiting for a slow death, then collapses, drunk. The next day, Dwight and Peter meet with a naval advisory panel that postulates the weather may have been disrupted enough by the nuclear explosions to have reduced the radiation to a potentially non-lethal level, thus sparing Australia. Bridie informs Dwight and Peter that the Sawfish will travel as far north into the Pacific as possible to take radiation readings to learn if this has occurred. That afternoon, Moira visits Dwight at the dock to apologize for her behavior the night of the party. To her surprise, Moira finds Julian on the dock and he reveals he has been asked to join the Sawfish . Bridie interrupts Moira's visit to report to Dwight that navy communications has picked up a garbled but steady telegraph message emanating from San Diego that must be investigated. Over the next few days before the mission, Dwight enjoys time with Moira, but when she questions him about his reluctance to get romantically involved with her, he explains that he has not been able to accept the deaths of his wife and children and continues to feel married. Meanwhile, Peter grows anxious at the thought of leaving Mary and Jennifer for so long and obtains suicide pills offered by the government. When he attempts to explain their use to Mary, she is horrified that he could consider killing Jennifer and refuses to listen to his appeal to be practical. Depressed by Dwight's emotional aloofness, Moira visits Julian the night before the mission and reveals that she has fallen in love with Dwight and is frightened to realize that as death looms, she is alone in an empty life. The Sawfish sets off on its mission and after several days surfaces in the northern Pacific Ocean amid icebergs. Julian takes radiation readings and reports to Dwight that the levels match those in the mid-Pacific. Realizing that this invalidates the panel's hopeful theory that Australia might somehow survive radiation poisoning, Peter confesses to Julian his anguish at knowing he will have to watch his loved ones die. Julian chastises him by pointing out that he has had the great fortune to love and be loved while others like him and Moira have wasted their lives. Days later, the Sawfish arrives in San Francisco and the officers are depressed to survey the stark, desolate streets of the city. After Yeoman Swain peers at his hometown through the periscope he flees through the escape hatch into the bay and swims to the city, declaring that he wants to die at home. Dwight waits overnight for Swain's return and then locates the sailor fishing in the bay. Via the submarine radio, Dwight asks Swain if he sure about his decision to remain alone and likely die a very unpleasant death, but the sailor reassures him that he will not suffer unduly as he has access to all of the drugstores in the city. Wishing Swain luck, Dwight orders the Sawfish to San Diego to learn the source of the continuing telegraph signals. During the journey the officers reflect on the war, but no one can recall how it began. Julian observes that mankind's path to destruction was set when they accepted that the only way to maintain peace was to amass an ever increasing supply of nuclear weapons. Upon arriving in San Diego, Dwight tracks the signal to a power plant and, dressed in an anti-radiation suit, sailor Sundstrom goes ashore to investigate. Upon exploring the plant, Sundstrom finds an empty office where a soda bottle has fallen over onto the telegraph and gotten caught in the window shade cord. The wind blowing the shade resulted in the bottle bouncing erratically on the telegraph key. Somewhat relieved by this explanation, the Sawfish turns back to Australia. Joining her father on his ranch, Moira waits for news of Dwight's return and is overjoyed when he arrives and admits he has been foolish to deny his feelings for her. A day later, Dwight dryly receives the news from Bridie that as the highest ranking surviving member of the American Navy, his embassy has promoted him to admiral. Moira then learns from Julian that he has indulged in a long-cherished fantasy of purchasing a race car, which he plans to drive in the national cup competition. When Moira observes the race is extremely dangerous, Julian admits the possibility of a quick death has occurred to him. Dwight and Moira attend the race and watch with horror as numerous drivers are killed or injured in fiery crashes, but to their amazement, Julian wins the competition. Dwight invites Moira away to a mountain retreat where he admits his love for her. As Australians begin reporting increasing signs of radiation illness, the government disperses the suicide pills. Some people turn to excessive partying while others listen with faint hope to religious messages as their end nears. Dwight asks his crew their wishes and they request to return to America to die at home. As Julian commits suicide by locking himself in his garage with his race car engine running, Dwight tells Moira that he must leave her. At their home, Mary at last apologizes to Peter for her behavior and before taking the suicide pills, the couple happily recalls their courtship and marriage. The next day, after an emotional farewell with Dwight, Moira watches the Sawfish sail away.
Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood U.s.n. (ret.)
Lt. Commander A. A. Norris-smith
A. B. Paterson
On the Beach
Based on a controversial novel by Nevil Shute (inspired by the Australian writer's bemused notion that his adopted homeland would be the only refuge after a nuclear attack), the story follows a group of survivors of an international nuclear attack which has annihilated all of the major nations. Commander Towers (Gregory Peck) and his crew survive on a submarine and seek refuge in Australia, where he becomes a companion to the high-living Moira (Ava Gardner) despite coping with the loss of his family. Meanwhile American physicist and racing aficionado Julian Osborne (Fred Astaire) and Australian naval officer Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) find their own dreams thwarted with the realization that the incoming winds may eventually bring radioactive doom to the remaining survivors.
Before On the Beach, depictions of nuclear terror had largely remained the domain of low-budget horror and science fiction films as well as the occasional under-the-radar independent feature with strange propaganda slants such as Arch Oboler's Five (1951) or Invasion USA (1952). What sets this film apart, aside from the obvious pedigree of the talent involved, is its refusal to play the political game by trying to sway the audience to one side or the other. In fact, it was the first American film to hold a premiere in the Soviet Union, where it received a positive reception in the Soviet Union despite never being officially released wide in that country.
The decision to shoot On the Beach on location in Melbourne proved to be both a wise decision in establishing a sense of genuine atmosphere and locale for the project and a source of frustration for many of the cast and crew. No real Australian film studios existed, so facilities had to be built from scratch, often in punishing heat. Gardner, an urbanite, had the most difficulty coping thanks to a particularly dogged entertainment press and her desire to skip off to Sydney for a taste of its night life. Of the shooting location she famously remarked, "I'm here to make a picture about the end of the world, and this sure is the place for it!"
In his first non-musical role, Astaire (who was approached directly by Kramer for the part at the suggestion of his wife) developed an intense characterization and committed fully to his role, even downing bourbon flown in from America before shooting his big intoxication scene. Unlike Gardner, he had no trouble passing incognito among the Australian public and enjoyed browsing through local thrift and novelty stores as well as attending the dog races with Peck.
Apart from removing any specific national involvement in the holocaust, On the Beach remains admirably faithful to the original source novel, particularly retaining its author's ambivalent relationship with technology which occupied so much of his writing as well as his largely covert military career with Great Britain. The story "envisions a world destroyed by gadgets, but this world still loves the gadgets which have destroyed and will outlast their makers," notes Julian Smith in his biography, Nevil Shute. "But Shute is not mocking man; he is only explaining how things are. In fact, he bought a brand new Jaguar XK 140 when he started writing On the Beach and raced it himself."
Though the more conservative factions of the American press and government were quick to dismiss On the Beach as speculative science fiction and needlessly depressing, the film struck a chord with the public and for decades remained the definitive dramatic portrayal of the aftermath of a nuclear attack until a new resurgence of harrowing Reagan-era nuclear studies such as The Day After (1983), When the Wind Blows (1986) and Testament (1983). As Donald Spoto observes in Stanley Kramer: Film Maker, the film is not a morbid analysis of slow death but a humane look at mankind's attributes as well as "a powerful and a moving and a thought-provoking film... For some viewers, of course, any movie is depressing that does not reveal its significance without reflection or reviewing...It's really about the horror of wasting life and about the vain pursuit of power and expediency. It affirms that our worst fear should be that we'll not have time to develop further our own humanity. And having proposed that, the film finally gives back our hope: there is still time."
The basic formula for On the Beach proved successful enough for Kramer to repeat it again for two more acclaimed films, Inherit the Wind (1960) and Judgment at Nuremberg 91961), using a cast of stars to deliver a message many viewers weren't quite prepared to accept. It also generated worldwide awareness and popularity for its theme song, "Waltzing Matilda," an Australian standard adapted by composer Ernest Gold to increasingly chilling effect until its final haunting refrain in the unforgettable, desolate final scene.
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Director: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: John Paxton, James Lee Barrett (uncredited), Nevil Shute (novel)
Cinematography: Daniel Fapp
Art Direction: Fernando Carrere
Music: Ernest Gold
Film Editing: Frederic Knudtson
Cast: Gregory Peck (Cmdr. Dwight Lionel Towers), Ava Gardner (Moira Davidson), Fred Astaire (Julian Osborne), Anthony Perkins (Lt. Cmdr. Peter Holmes), Donna Anderson (Mary Holmes).
by Nathaniel Thompson
On the Beach
TCM Remembers - Stanley Kramer
With these films, Stanley Kramer built his reputation as a producer of important films. He made movies with a conscience, movies with a message. Although his films were sometimes criticized as being too simplistic in dealing with tough subjects, Kramer still deserves a great deal of credit for tackling sensitive subject matter no other director or studio wanted to address. His exploration of timely social issues is what makes his cinema unique and his recent passing leaves us with no one to fill his shoes.
Kramer learned his craft within Hollywood's studio system. He began as a production assistant on So Ends Our Night(1941) and was soon writing and editing. By the late forties, Kramer broke away from the studio hierarchy and formed an independent production company. Outside of the Hollywood system, he could tackle social issues head-on while producing well-crafted and meaningful dramas. In The New York Times obituary for Kramer, the director was quoted in accessing his own career and it's most appropriate here: "I decided that somewhere between the films on outer space and Sylvester Stallone, there is a place for me. I was always associated with films that had an opinion. I don't believe films change anyone's mind, but I was spawned during the Roosevelt era, a time of great change, and I still believe in trying to get people to think."
For his directorial debut, Not As A Stranger (1955), Kramer signed up the all-star cast of Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, Olivia de Havilland and Gloria Grahame to reveal the trials and tribulations of doctors and nurses balancing medical school with their personal relationships. In The Defiant Ones (1958) shackled Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier together as escaped convicts. As they flee the law they're forced to confront each other's racism and ultimately discover that beneath their skin color, they are not so different. On the Beach (1959) was Kramer's anti-atom bomb polemic in which Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire survive an initial nuclear holocaust only to face a slow, painful death from fallout.
From the arms race to Biblical scripture, the following year Kramer turned his attention to the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 in Inherit the Wind(1960). This famous courtroom trial was a true-life clash of the titans as Fredric March and Spencer Tracy face off on the issue of Evolution versus Creationism. Although names are changed, March gave a grandstanding performance as William Jennings Bryan, the mouthpiece for conservatism, while Tracy played Clarence Darrow, a tireless fighter for progressive thought.
Kramer's films were more than just entertainment; his stories were political platforms for the Civil Rights Movement, disarmament and liberal thinking. For audiences who thought the director couldn't take on an issue greater than the Scopes Monkey Trial, Kramer's next film would prove to be even more controversial. Again, Kramer booked a cast of Hollywood's hottest names to bring mass appeal to his very serious film.
In Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) Spencer Tracy presides over a German war-criminal trial which delves into the atrocities of the Nazi regime. Burt Lancaster sits smugly on the stand as Ernst Janning, an unrepentant officer of the Gestapo, as Maximilian Schell mounts his defense. Montgomery Clift, as a Jew subjected to a sterilization experiment, nervously submits his testimony. Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich each take the stand. Hollywood's greatest stars came out to shed light on one of the darkest moments of the 20th century. The Academy responded with 11 nominations, including for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Tracy), Supporting Actor (Clift), Supporting Actress (Garland), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography and Editing. Schell won Best Actor for his dynamic performance as Herr Rolfe.
However, Stanley Kramer wasn't "Mr. Message Film" all the time. In a lighter moment, he produced the surrealist anti-fascist fantasy, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T(1953) in which he enlisted the talents of Dr. Seuss. More famously, he pooled the greatest comics together for an insane Cinerama screwball farce - It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
By Jeremy Geltzer & Jeff Stafford
TCM Remembers - Stanley Kramer
Well... how'd you recognize me?- Dwight Towers
I love Americans. They're so naive.- Moira Davidson
I wouldn't really mind... if you could forget entirely who I am.... I don't like myself very much anyway.- Moira Davidson
There isn't time. No time to love... nothing to remember... nothing worth remembering.- Moira Davidson
You remember when we first met? It was on the beach. I thought you were everything I'd always wanted.- Peter
I thought you were so underfed.- Mary
It's all over now, isn't it?- Mary
Yes, it's all over.- Peter
It is rumored that guards at each end of the Golden Gate Bridge were paid $500 each to stop cars for a minute to get footage of an empty bridge.
The U.S. Department of Defense and the United States Navy declined to cooperate in the production of this film, including access to a nuclear-powered submarine, which forced the film production to use a non-nuclear, diesel-electric Royal Navy submarine, HMS Andrew.
Fred Astaire launched his non-musical, dramatic acting career with this film.
The movie was shot in part in Berwick, a (then) small town in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Some streets which were being established during this time were named after people involved in the film. Some examples are: Gardner Street (Ava Gardner), Shute Avenue ('Neville Shute' ) and Kramer Drive (Stanley Kramer).
The following written acknowledgment appears in the opening credits: "We acknowledge with appreciation the assistance given by the Royal Australian Navy and, in particular, by the officers and men of H.M.A.S. Melbourne and H.M.S. Andrew." The film's final scene depicts an empty square in front of a government building, with a banner hung by Salvation Army representatives stating "There is Still Time...Brother." Nevil Shute's novel On the Beach was serialized in Los Angeles Times (25 August-8 September 1957). Although a November 1958 Hollywood Reporter item stated that James Lee Bartlett was working on the script, his contribution to the released film has not been confirmed. The film was shot on location in Australia, with the racing sequence filmed at Riverside International Raceway, CA. On the Beach marked the feature film debut of Donna Anderson. A February 10, 1959 Hollywood Reporter item adds Lyn Peters to the cast, but her appearance in the film has not been confirmed.
As part of the publicity campaign to emphasize the serious nature of On the Beach, producer-director Stanley Kramer and United Artists arranged to stage a simultaneous world premiere on December 17, 1959 in more than twenty cities worldwide, including Moscow, according to the Filmfacts review. According to a December 18, 1959 Hollywood Reporter item, the event marked the first time an American film had had a premiere in the Soviet Union. The same item noted that the premieres were specially sponsored in each of the cities, with the Red Cross sponsoring six locations.
Reviews of the film, all acknowledging nuclear war as the greatest threat of the times, were mixed: the New York Times reviewer called it "deeply moving...it carries a passionate conviction that man is worth saving"; while Variety's review described it as "a solid theatrical film...as heavy as a leaden shroud. The spectator is left with the sick feeling that he's had a preview of Armageddon, in which all contestants lost"; Cue called it "an elaborate mixture of the tremendous and the trivial-salting a vast amount of superficial fictional vacuities with a minute dose of solid substance"; and Hollywood Reporter enthused that the film was "brilliantly executed," but wondered at length why none of the characters showed any interest in religion as the world ends. Many reviews praised the performance of dancer Fred Astaire as "Julian Osborn" in his first solely dramatic performance. Reviews also praised the artistic quality of the cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno.
On the Beach received two Academy Award nominations, for Best Film Editing and Best Music (Score). In 2000 the Showtime cable network and an Australian company, Coote Hayes Productions, co-produced a three-part television miniseries of On the Beach starring Armand Assante, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown, directed by Russell Mulcahy. Unlike the feature film, the television series emphasized the graphic nature of the panic, destruction and death caused by atomic radiation.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1959 National Board of Review.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1959 New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1959
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1959