Movie Review: On the Beach (1959)

On the beach” comes to us as a time capsule from 1959 when people in the West were apparently counting the days before the nuclear holocaust. The actual story happens in 1964, so in 1959 it was probably considered a sci-fi movie. The Northern hemisphere is contaminated by radiation resulting from the World War III and the last surviving American submarine after wandering around the globe docks in Melbourne, Australia which so far escaped the fate of the rest of the world. The movie makes a point of not naming the reason and who started the war. There is no destruction shown, just abandoned and lifeless but still intact structures standing as monuments to perished humanity. Life in Australia continues as normal as could be considering that the radiation cloud slowly proceeds to envelope the rest of the planet.
The submarine is sent to investigate a strange Morse Code which is being transmitted from San Diego. In ironic twist the last radio signal from US is being transmitted by a Coke bottle (one of the most recognizable shapes on the planet associated with America) accidentally hung up on a curtain string and bounced by a breeze.
When the crew comes back to Melbourne the signs of radiation poisoning start to appear and the government distributes cyanide capsules so people don’t have to die in pain. The end of the world is near and people deal with it to the best of their mental and physical abilities.
The movie stars A-list actors of that time -Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and it’s very grim for the period known for uplifting and light hearted films.
I don’t think that on the other side of the iron curtain the mood of the public was as apocalyptic. Maybe it was due to the Soviet propaganda convincing the people that they are well protected. On the American side where press was more open the people probably had a better idea about the real situation in the world. Cuban Missile Crisis was still a few years away and movies like this did not make public feel any better about the future.
Most of the soundtrack of the movie consisted of the different takes on the famous Australian folk song Waltzing Matilda. I always liked this song although you almost have to have a dictionary to understand it. Enjoy!