On the Beach

Director: Stanley Kramer
Year Released: 1959
Rating: 2.0

One would think that with an all-star cast and a plot involving the end of humanity you'd come up with compelling, riveting, shocking material. However, these tools, in the hands of director Stanley Kramer, only come out half-baked and heavy-handed (the film is obviously an indictment of war and the stupidity of mankind). The story takes place around the time of WWII (I think?), and there's been a nuclear war. The nuclear weapons, releasing toxins in the air, has already wiped out the northern hemisphere, and it's working its way down to Australia, where the story takes place. Gregory Peck, a submarine commander, has shown up with his crew to stay there for a while ... for what reason I don't know. Meanwhile, he meets Anthony Perkins, who has a wife and child (this subplot is a little loose ... neither he nor his wife are well-developed characters), Fred Astaire the depressed nuclear scientist/race-car driver and Ava Gardner, a potential love-interest (all acting in the picture is top-notch, but Astaire especially stands out). Most of the first hour is yawn-worthy - the story never draws you in because no one ever seems to be in much of a hurry - or panicked for that matter. There are, however, two remarkable sequences in this: the first involves one of Peck's men, in a biohazard (?) suit, walking around a desolate, empty, haunting San Francisco (it's strongly reminiscent of the Chris Marker great short La Jetée), and the second is between an older Navy officer and his young secretary, sharing a final drink together (it is truly touching, probably because the camera is so close to them, and never cuts away, so the sense of intimacy is successfully conveyed). Yet, the rest of the picture never quite reaches that level of poignancy, and it all ends on a rather uneventful note. In the hands of another director (I can't say 'better' because Kramer was quite good), the material may have been more emotional, more involving and less restrained, without focusing so much on conveying a message and more on telling a story.