Blu-Ray Review – On The Beach

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Stanley Kramer was a massive influence on Steven Spielberg and once called him “one of our great filmmakers, not just for the art and passion he put on-screen, but for the impact he has made on the conscience of the world.”. Kramer made mainly social conscience films of the ’50s and On The Beach certainly fits into that mould. It was based on the popular novel by Nevil Shute which is still widely available today but Shute was ultimately disappointed with the adaptation.

On The Beach is post-apocalyptic film not necessarily science fiction but it’s about the last refugee of civilization which is Australia (where Shute lived at the time) and how they come to terms with the fact the human race will die out in a matter of months. They only have months left to live because nuclear fallout is slowing drifting to Australia.  The Australian government is handing out suicide pills or injections to end the suffering of people who were exposed to radiation.

Kramer was known for his impeccably casted ensembles and On The Beach is no exception. Gregory Peck leads the pack with the trademark integrity he brought to any role as the submarine captain Dwight Lionel Towers who falls Moira Davidson played by screen scarlet Ava Gardner. Fred Astaire in a rare dramatic role is fantastic as the Australian scientist Julian Osbourne. Anthony Perkins in a pre-Psycho role plays a Australian navy officer.

During its initial release it was a flop but was a critical hit and over the years has become a minor Hollywood classic. It’s widely considered one of Kramer’s best films if not the best of his varied career. The cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno who would work with such directors as Terry Gilliam and Fellini adds enormously to the film’s look because he was one of the masters. It remains a haunting but strangely hopeful about the last days of mankind and has one of the highest body counts in cinema albeit mostly over screen of over 3 billion. It also popularised the most famous Australian song Waltzing Matilda which is used throughout the film.

Signal One Entertainment has compiled the definitive release of On The Beach. First up is a commentary written by Dr. Philip Davey which is read by actor Douglas Hansell. They found some rare 8mm making of footage and they also interviewed one of the last surviving cast members Donna Anderson. The disc is rounded off by some images gallery of Kramer’s photographs and the lobby cards and of course the theatrical trailer.

★★★★½

Ian Schultz

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