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On the Beach

Year: 1959
Production Co: Stanley Kramer Productions
Director: Stanley Kramer
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Writer: Neville Shute
Cast: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins, Fred Astaire, John Meillon
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A dark vision of the possible future (one that could already have been in our past), with a downbeat, bleak ending for a Hollywood picture.

A nuclear war has rendered the northern hemisphere uninhabitable, and Australia is the only functioning society left.

A submarine Captain (Peck) is stationed in Melbourne, assisting the Australian armed forces to determine the extent of the local damage and how long the last safe corner of earth will be safe from the radiation creeping closer all the time, all the while falling for a lovely socialite (Gardner).

The story also centres on a local serviceman (Perkins) torn between love for his doomed young family and duty to his flag and commanders.

Joined by a scientist (Astaire in his first drama role), the sub travels from Antarctica back to the US in search of radiation-free air, not only finding none, but learning that the threat is moving faster than they'd imagined.

The feeling of dread - of waiting for a wave of death to come over the horizon and unravel the last threads of civilisation - is palpable and heavy. There's no feelgood 50's Capra mood or ending here, and it could easily be translated to modern times.

All performances are good although the only letdown is casting big American stars as Australian when they can only just hint at the accent. But with no Australian industry to speak of at the time, they didn't face much choice.

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