Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins
Director: Stanley Kramer
Running Time: 134 mins
On The Beach is an American film about a US submarine captain who lands in Australia following a nuclear fallout in the northern hemisphere. Whilst there, he meets and bonds with all sorts of people, but the impending threat of spreading radiation from the war in the northern hemisphere towards Australia gives him short time with his new acquaintances.
The premise for this film fascinated me, and I expected an enthralling depiction of a world on the verge of total apocalypse. What I got, however, was a dull, drawn-out story about personal romances that doesn’t pack anywhere near enough power to be a properly impressive apocalyptic drama.
The biggest problem that I had with this film was that its focus was in the wrong place. Although it does pick up to a certain extent in the second half with regards to depicting the impending doom of the planet, the first half is a painfully dull watch, where we see an American submarine captain developing a relationship with a local woman, and various supporting characters preparing for the end of their relationships.
In truth, the first half of this movie could have been set anywhere at any time. Yes, there are allusions to the eventual death of all life on Earth, but for the most part, the film doesn’t go anywhere near the wider context, and it’s just not interesting to watch.
The all-star cast was another draw for me to this film, but that was also a huge disappointment. Gregory Peck isn’t anywhere near his usual charismatic self, even if the end of the world has taken his shine off, whilst supporting players Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire really don’t do much else to inject an emotional power into this story.
As the film goes on, it does get darker, and there are more and more references to the coming disaster, but what frustrated me so much about On The Beach was its tendency to gloss over those references again and again in exchange for the personal relationships. I know that personal stories are often the key to making a good film great, but in the case of this film, we get so little focus on the wider context, and so much focus on these characters that frankly aren’t as interesting as the fascinating premise, making for a hugely frustrating watch from start to finish, and that’s why I’m giving On The Beach a 5.9.