The Screenkicker Olympics: Representing Melbourne, Australia – On The Beach (1959)

The Sochi Winter Olympics may be over, and it may be a while until the next Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but the competition between nations has not finished. The amazing Mikey at Screenkicker! is hosting a special blogathon called the Screenkicker Olympics, to showcase cinematic talent from all over the world. There’s going to be so many great posts and reviews and I’m really looking forward to see where everyone comes from! Here’s my contribution, a review for On The Beach (1959), set in Melbourne, Australia.

*****

on the beach posterHi everyone, let me depress you with a story set in post-World War 3 1964. The location: Melbourne, Australia, the only place in the entire world that’s safe from a radioactive dust cloud that is slowly killing everyone on the planet, for the time being. This is the story of an excellent film called On The Beach (1959), directed by Stanley Kramer, and based on a book by Nevil Shute. It stars Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire (no, he doesn’t dance). All of these characters must come to terms with the realities of their survival on earth in the face of such a massive nuclear catastrophe.

Melbourne also happens to be my home town. I’ve lived here for my whole life and I can say for sure that it’s a wonderful place to live. There are lots of nice things to do, good employment opportunities, and a relatively stable economy. The punctuality of public transport tends to be a bit hit or miss though.

Anyway, back to the film. It’s shot in black and white, and the direction has some very interesting camera angles and focusing that can lend a sense of panic to certain scenes. The direction in this film is quite impressive. Additionally, the music has a huge sense of nostalgia as it uses the song Waltzing Matilda as the main ‘motif’ of the score. Filmmaking-wise, this is a great example of black and white done right. There are some great uses of light that give an extra dimension to certain scenes.

The post-apocalyptic theme is subtle from the beginning of the film, but builds up as the audience is fed more and more information about the radioactive dust cloud, what happened during World War 3, coffee and petrol shortages, and the constant attempt to see whether there is any survival beyond Melbourne. The film tends to skirt around the actual issue of the nuclear apocalypse until a sufficient amount of suspense has been built. In this way, its handling of information is quite clever. The story development is also very steady and builds each character into people that we really care about, which makes the eventual bittersweet ending even more painful.

The film is also heavy on existential themes, particularly the constant threat of death that the characters are facing. As the characters, and the general population of Melbourne, confront their finite lifespan and inevitable death, the film becomes a study of how people react to this threat, and how people choose to live out their final days. However, there are also some lighter comic relief moments that mostly arise at the expense of your typical ‘Aussie larrikin’-type characters.

Downsides: the Australian accents are not very convincing. Anthony Perkins does a fairly good accent, but Ava Gardner’s is awful. No other downsides. This is just a great film.

I’d definitely recommend watching On The Beach. It is a bit of a slow-burner but I was driven by wanting to know more about what happened during World War 3, and why the world was in such peril. It can get very bleak, particularly as it does address the inevitability of death. But overall it’s an excellent film and I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch, especially if you’re in the mood for an interesting drama that will force you to confront these deeply existential themes.

Finally, now that I’ve recommended On The Beach, let me introduce you to my home city of Melbourne through some moments from the film.

on the beach flinders st

This is Flinders Street station. I caught a train home from work at this station today! It doesn’t have that big light-up sign anymore but it’s just as busy around peak hour.

on the beach eliz st

This is a view from Elizabeth Street facing down to Flinders Street station. The place where I work is about two blocks to the right of this spot! It looks similar now, but much more built up.

on the beach state library

Here’s the State Library. A very beautiful old building. The inside is ten times more beautiful than the outside. This is kind of what it looks like when university exams are on.

on the beach gpo

The Department of the Navy in On The Beach is actually the GPO building on Bourke St in the city. It’s now a high-end shopping centre of sorts, which retains its original façade and interior, with some modern elements for the shops.

I hope you enjoyed my small tour of Melbourne via Stanley Kramer’s On The Beach! Here’s hoping Melbourne wins gold at the Screenkicker Olympics this year.

4/5
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

9 comments

  1. Nevil Shute was my favourite author when I was a teenager – I read them all from the prophetic What Happened to the Corbetts and the super A Town Like Alice – I cried my eyes out at On the Beach and certainly Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner brought it to life – much better than the remake and hopefully not as prophetic as the 1938 Corbetts!

    1. I’ve always meant to read Nevil Shute’s fiction! Maybe it’s time for me to finally get around to it! And you’re right, the remake was terrible. Absolutely none of the emotional impact this one had.

      1. I went out and bought all of his books that had been reprinted. You need to get past the rather dated style of writing but the essence of the stories is still there. I am not sure if they are in E-version. Thanks for coming back to me. Have a good week.

  2. I watched On the Beach years ago and remembered thinking ‘this is very strange!’ Thanks for contributing Anna, you’ve really put Melbourne on the map!

    1. Haha! Thanks matey – any time!

  3. Nothing cool has ever really been filmed in or around KNoxville, at least, not with any real significant purpose. I think there is a scene in Iron Man 3 that is shot in Chattanooga, TN but that’s still 2 hours away from me here in Knoxville. I tried so hard to think of a movie to do but alas, came up short. Reading everyone else’s, though, is going to be a lot of fun. This one certainly was.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 I’m loving this blogathon so far as well. All I know about Chattanooga is that one of those Teen Moms from MTV lives there! You could have done a post on her contribution to the media! 😉

      1. Oh of course, how could I not??! 😉

        That’s true, high-quality television right there.. .

  4. […] Australian film watched in 2014: On The Beach (1959) On The Beach isn’t directed by an Australian person so I don’t think it’s […]

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