A Movie A Day: Quint sees ON THE BEACH (1959) God, forgive us. Peter… I think I’ll have that cup of tea now…
Published at: Nov. 27, 2008, 7:29 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Wow, what a fucked up, depressing-ass movie this is. Who would have thought there would be such a gut-punch of a movie made in this era? Maybe I’m just showing my naivite, but I do not associate the ‘50s with crazy downer movies, let alone post-apocalyptic ones.
Basically the flick is about Australia (strange coincidence that Baz Luhrmann’s movie was released today, ain’t it?) being the last bastion of humanity on the planet after nuclear war. And the diagnosis isn’t pretty for them, either. Something about the sea winds around the equator is keeping the nuclear fallout from hitting Australia yet, but their scientists estimate they only have months before it reaches Australia’s shore.
Anthony Perkins is a young Aussie Navy man who is called in to represent Australia when Gregory Peck appears off Australia’s coast in an American submarine. He was on a mission when the missiles were launched and his crew might be all that remains of America.
Turns out the Naval higher-ups have been receiving a signal, sounds like morse code, but it’s erratic, probably meaning nothing. It’s coming from San Diego, which is supposed to be dead, without power… but something is transmitting. Maybe it’s a survivor that doesn’t know morse code?
They decide to send the sub on a journey. First, they want it to go up North because some scientists theorize the snow and ice might have absorbed the nuclear fallout quickly enough to make it inhabitable. Then, if that turns out to be bogus, they’re to go to the Coast of California, locate the possible survivor and see how they survived.
Sounds like a men on a mission movie, doesn’t it? It’s not, really. All that takes place in the second act and very little time is spent in the sub on the travel. What writer John Paxton and director Stanley Kramer instead focus on is the melodrama, exploring the psyche of a people that are on the brink of elimination… not just personally, but as a species.
And, of course, there’s a very, very strong and forward message about deproliferation of nuclear weapons, how it doesn’t make any sense to arm ourselves with weapons that essentially cause our suicide.
We never see the war, only the results. And it’s not a barren wasteland, charred beyod belief. No, it’s more real than that. If nuclear war broke out, it’s not the impact zones that kill us all, it’s the radiation leftover. We never see an impact zone, we don’t see streets littered with bodies. When we do see areas outside of Australia, like San Francisco, it’s just empty. It’s a pretty creepy thing, actually to see the Golden Gate Bridge completely empty, with no movement on either side.
Perkins has a family, a wife (Donna Anderson) and a baby girl. He’s strong for them, but his wife deals with the reality of their world in a different way than most. She just ignores it, not wanting to hear any talk of it, nothing. If she doesn’t hear about it then it’s not real for her.
Perkins is a little more realistic, but still hopeful. Peck also under a bit of self-deception. He has a wife and family back home and he speaks of them as if there were no war. His kid is going to grow up and be a great sailor, for instance. Peck is fully rational, knowing full well what the state of the world is, but not when it comes to his wife and kids. He can’t accept that they’re gone and just won’t acknowledge it.
Ava Gardner is an Aussie woman who turns to drinking and enjoying what little time is left. She falls in love with Peck, and he with her, forcing him to let go of the illusion of his wife and children’s safety and continued existence.
Fred Astaire takes what I believe is his first dramatic, non-musical role in this film as a British scientist (with no accent, I might add) and doomsayer. But he’s not a dark, brooding dickhead by any means, just doesn’t seem to have a filter when speaking about the end of times or any sense of what that kind of talk does to those around him.
Those are our core group we follow and it’s a fascinating hodgepodge of ideals and points of view.
I won’t spend much more time describing the movie for a couple of reasons… I don’t want to ruin it, first and foremost, but I’m also under the gun on the Holiday Shopping Guide and need to focus entirely on that, but let me just say that the dour tone really surprised me and the ending even more so. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more depressing “The End” credit in my life. I’ve seen harsher endings, but the placement of that final image, with the Waltzing Matilda instrumental playing, really is a kick to the dick.
Final Thoughts: Everybody is strong here, especially Peck and Gardner, but the real star of this movie is the total non-spectacle take on the end of the world. The focus is on the internal, not the external and it paints an honest look at the results of nuclear war. Although, I did spend most of the movie wondering what happened to New Zealand… Oh, and you get to see Fred Astaire race the Mach 5. I’m not kidding. It even has the 5 on it, same design. Go watch it, you’ll see I’m not BSing you…
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Thursday, November 27th: TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (1949)
Friday, November 28th: GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT (1947)
Saturday, November 29th: PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950)
Sunday, November 30th: THE HOT ROCK (1972)
Monday, December 1st: WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966)
Tuesday, December 2nd: THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973)
Wednesday, December 3rd: CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971)
Alright, time to hunker down on this Guide. I've spent some 3 weeks researching and compiling and the last two days have spent about 20 hours getting it together... and I'm anticipating being up for another 12-14 hours to finish. Wish me luck! See you folks tomorrow for TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH, following Mr. Gregory Peck! And Happy Early Turkey Day!