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Encyclopedia > On the Beach
On the Beach

On the Beach DVD cover
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Written by Nevil Shute (novel)
John Paxton
Starring Gregory Peck
Ava Gardner
Fred Astaire
Anthony Perkins
Distributed by United Artists
Release date December 17, 1959 (U.S. release)
Running time 134 min.
Language English
IMDb profile

On the Beach is a post-apocalyptic end-of-the-world novel written by British author Nevil Shute after he had emigrated to Australia. It was published in 1957. Image File history File links On_the_Beach_DVD_cover. ... Stanley Kramer (September 29, 1913 – February 19, 2001) was a Jewish-American film director and producer. ... Gregory Peck (April 5, 1916 – June 12, 2003) was an Oscar-winning American film actor. ... Ava Gardner (December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990) was an American actress. ... Fred Astaire Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899 – June 22, 1987), born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska, was an American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor. ... Anthony Perkins Anthony Perkins (April 4, 1932–September 12, 1992) was an American actor best known for his role as the serial killer Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho. ... The current United Artists logo (a variant was used during the 1980s). ... December 17 is the 351st day of the year (352nd in leap years) in the Gregorian Calendar. ... See also: 1958 in film 1959 1960 in film 1950s in film 1960s in film years in film film Events The Three Stooges make their 180th and last short film, Sappy Bullfighters. ... Apocalyptic science fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction that is concerned with the end of the world or civilization, through nuclear war, plague, or some other general disaster. ... Nevil Shute (London, January 17, 1899 – Melbourne, January 12, 1960) (full name Nevil Shute Norway) was one of the most popular novelists of the mid-20th century. ...


The novel was adapted for the screenplay of a 1959 movie featuring Gregory Peck (USS Sawfish captain Dwight Lionel Towers), Ava Gardner (Moira Davidson), Fred Astaire (scientist Julian -- John in the novel -- Osborne) and Anthony Perkins (Australian naval officer Peter Holmes). It was directed by Stanley Kramer, who won the 1960 BAFTA for best director. Ernest Gold won the 1960 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Score. Gregory Peck (April 5, 1916 – June 12, 2003) was an Oscar-winning American film actor. ... USS Sawfish (SS-276), a Gato-class submarine, was a ship of the United States Navy named for the sawfish, a viviparous ray which has a long flat snout with a row of toothlike structures along each edge. ... Ava Gardner (December 24, 1922 – January 25, 1990) was an American actress. ... Fred Astaire Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899 – June 22, 1987), born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska, was an American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor. ... Anthony Perkins Anthony Perkins (April 4, 1932–September 12, 1992) was an American actor best known for his role as the serial killer Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho. ... Stanley Kramer (September 29, 1913 – February 19, 2001) was a Jewish-American film director and producer. ... 1960 (MCMLX) was a leap year starting on Friday (the link is to a full 1960 calendar). ... The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), is a British organization that hosts annual awards shows for film, television, childrens film and television, and interactive media. ... Ernest Gold (born July 13, 1921, Vienna, Austria; died March 17 Santa Monica, California, 1999) was an Austrian-born Jewish-American Academy Award winning composer of the theme from the movie Exodus. ... 1960 (MCMLX) was a leap year starting on Friday (the link is to a full 1960 calendar). ... The Golden Globe Awards are American awards for motion pictures and television programs, given out each year during a formal dinner. ...


Plot

The story is set in what was then the near future (1963 in the book, 1964 in the first movie, and 2006 in the television production) in the months following World War III. The conflict has devastated the northern hemisphere, polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout and killing all life. While the nuclear bombs were confined to the northern hemisphere, global air currents are slowly carrying the fallout to the southern hemisphere. The only part of the planet still inhabitable is the far south of the globe, specifically Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and the southern parts of South America. This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Map of hypothetical fallout dispersal after a large-scale nuclear attack against the United States. ...


From Australia, survivors detect a mysterious though incomprehensible Morse code radio signal originating from the United States. With hope that some life has remained in the contaminated regions, one of the last American nuclear submarines, the USS Sawfish (USS Scorpion in the book), placed by its captain under Australian naval command, is ordered to sail north from its port of refuge in Melbourne (Australia's southernmost major city) to try to contact whoever is sending the signal. The American captain, Dwight Towers, leads the operation, leaving behind a woman of recent acquaintance, the alcoholic Moira Davidson, to whom he's become attached, despite his feelings of guilt regarding the certain deaths of his wife and children in the U.S. He refuses to admit that they are dead and continues to behave as though they are still alive, buying them gifts and writing them letters. In the novel, he remains faithful to his wife, while in the film, he has an affair with Moira. 1922 Chart of the Morse Code Letters and Numerals Morse code is a method for transmitting information, using standardized sequences of short and long marks or pulses — commonly known as dots and dashes — for the letters, numerals, punctuation and special characters of a message. ... USS Sawfish (SS-276), a Gato-class submarine, was a ship of the United States Navy named for the sawfish, a viviparous ray which has a long flat snout with a row of toothlike structures along each edge. ... Melbourne is the state capital and largest city in the Australian state of Victoria, and the second-largest city in Australia, with a population of approximately 3. ...


The Australian government makes arrangements to provide its citizens with free cyanide pills and injections so that they will be able to avoid prolonged suffering from radiation sickness. One of the novel's poignant dilemmas is that of Australian naval officer Peter Holmes, who has a baby daughter and a naive and childish wife, Mary, who is in denial about the impending disaster. Because he has been assigned to travel north with the Americans, Peter must try to explain to Mary how to kill their baby and herself with the cyanide should he be unable to return in time.


After sailing almost to the Arctic Circle, the expedition members determine that radiation levels are not diminishing but intensifying. They then travel to an abandoned naval installation on the coast of the state of Washington, where they discover that, although the city's residents have long perished in the fallout, some of the region's hydroelectric power is still on-line, owing to the primitive automation technology available at that time. The mysterious signal is the result of a telegraph key being occasionally hit by a window frame that has been blown from its window and is teetering in the breeze. (In the second film, the explanation is intermittent sunlight on a solar-powered laptop.) Bitterly disappointed, (most of) the submariners return to Australia to live out the little time that remains before the radioactive air arrives and kills everyone. One crewmember, who is from one of the coastal areas the expedition visits, jumps ship to spend his last hours in his hometown. A sign along the Dalton Highway marking the location of the Arctic Circle The Arctic Circle is one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. ...


The characters make their best efforts to "enjoy" what time and pleasures remain to them before dying from radiation poisoning, though they sometimes engage in behavior that, on the face of it, seems ridiculous. The Holmeses plant a garden that they will never see; Moira takes classes in typing and shorthand; scientist John Osborne and others organize a dangerous motor race that results in the violent deaths of several participants. In the end, Captain Towers chooses not to remain with Moira but rather to lead his crew on a final mission to scuttle their submarine beyond the twelve-mile limit, so that she will not rattle about, unsecured, in a foreign port -- even though the impending demise of everyone renders such an action somewhat pointless. Radiation poisoning, also called radiation sickness, is a form of damage to organic tissue due to excessive exposure to ionizing radiation. ...


Typically for a Shute novel, the characters are remarkably stoic and avoid the expression of intense emotions. They do not, for the most part, flee southward as refugees but rather accept their fate once the lethal radiation levels reach the latitudes at which they live. Finally, most of the Australians do opt for the government-promoted alternative of suicide at the first onset of radiation-sickness symptoms.


In the book (though this is not mentioned in the original film), the war is said to have involved the bombing of the United Kingdom by Egypt. The aircraft used were obtained from the USSR and so the attack was mistakenly thought to have been led by the Soviets, leading to a retaliation on the USSR by the NATO powers. The book also hints at a strike by the People's Republic of China against the USSR, aiming at occupying Soviet industrial areas near the Chinese border; this strike leads to a Russian retaliatory strike. This may have been a reference to the then-contemporary Suez crisis. In the later television movie, the Third World War is sparked by the People's Republic of China launching an all-out invasion of Taiwan that brings the United States to Taiwan's defence. After the U.S. deploys its forces to attack the Chinese with conventional weaponry, the Chinese launch an all-out nuclear missile attack on North America, which results in the United States launching a nuclear strike against mainland China. NATO 2002 Summit in Prague The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation[1] (NATO), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, the Atlantic Alliance or the Western Alliance, is an international organisation for collective security established in 1949, in support of the North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington, DC, on 4 April 1949. ... Combatants United Kingdom, Israel, France Egypt Commanders Moshe Dayan (CoS of the IDF) General Sir Charles Keightley (C-in-C), Vice-Admiral Pierre Barjot (Deputy) Gamal Abdel Nasser Strength 45,000 British, 34,000 French, 175,000 Israeli 300,000 Egyptians Casualties 177 Israelis KIA, unknown number WIA, 16 British...


Much of the novel's action takes place in Melbourne, close to the southernmost part of the Australian mainland. Shute is said to have despised the first movie version (which was released little more than a month before he died), feeling that his characters had been altered too greatly. However, the film shoot in and around Melbourne (with some of the racing action shot at Riverside Raceway) was a great novelty for that city at the time. It was claimed that Ava Gardner described the Melbourne as 'the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world'; the purported quote was actually invented by journalist Neil Jillett. Melbourne is the state capital and largest city in the Australian state of Victoria, and the second-largest city in Australia, with a population of approximately 3. ... Riverside International Raceway (Sometimes known as RIR or Riverside Raceway) was a racing track or road course in Riverside, California. ...


It should be noted that the uniform southward drift of the nuclear fallout as portrayed in the story is scientifically implausible. Global fallout levels would have been unlikely to be so high as to be so uniformly and promptly lethal, nor would fallout be likely to drift southwards so gradually and uniformly. In the book, Shute attributes this lethality to salted bombs, but this detail is omitted from the film. The more likely threat would be either a global nuclear winter or lethal ultraviolet radiation exposure from depletion of the ozone layer, an expected effect of an all-out nuclear exchange. A salted bomb is a nuclear weapon constructed like fission-fusion-fission weapons, but instead of a fissionable jacket around the secondary stage fusion fuel, a blanket of a specially chosen isotope of a non-fissionable element is used (cobalt-59 in the case of the cobalt bomb). ... Nuclear winter is a hypothetical global climate condition that is predicted to be a possible outcome of a large-scale nuclear war. ... The ozone layer, or ozonosphere layer (rarely used term), is that part of the Earths atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone (O3). ...


Academy Awards

Award Person
Nominated:
Best Score Frederic Knudtson
Best Editing Ernest Gold

From Rule Sixteen of the Special Rules for The Music Awards Original Score: An original score is a substantial body of music in the form of dramatic underscoring written specifically for the film by the submitting composer. ... Frederic Knudtson (1906 - 1964) was an editor whose career stretched from 1932 until his sudden death in 1964, which ironically came at the peak of his career when he racked up five Academy Award nominations in six years. ... Ernest Gold (born July 13, 1921, Vienna, Austria; died March 17 Santa Monica, California, 1999) was an Austrian-born Jewish-American Academy Award winning composer of the theme from the movie Exodus. ...

External links

  • On the Beach (1959) at the Internet Movie Database
  • On the Beach (2000) at the Internet Movie Database
  • Article on 1959 film adaptation
  • Filming of crash sequences at Riverside International Raceway
  • Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War In Fiction Paul Brains, Washington State University. Contains extensive discussion of Shute's book.

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