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A look back in time to 1959's 'On the Beach' as international affairs escalate

Movie Theater (Alexandre Chassignon / CC BY-SA 2.0/MGN Online)

ON THE BEACH (1959)

Score: A

Not Rated -- 134 minutes

"Locked and loaded -- 'There is still time, brother!'"

ON THE BEACH was released at the end of December 1959. With three movie theaters owned and operated by my parents, I watched this movie for the first time at 12 and half years of age. Ever since, I have been haunted by the imagined nightmare of the annihilation of all mankind on this earth. The black and white film tells the tale of the slow poisoning of the last pocket of surviving humans by radioactive fallout from a nuclear war.

The screenplay for ON THE BEACH was written by John Paxton, based on the book by Nevil Shute. The film was directed and produced by Stanley Kramer. For those millennial movie-goers who are not familiar with Mr. Kramer's body of work, both as a director and producer, his films received 16 Academy Awards and 80 nominations. He, himself, was nominated nine times either as director or producer.

Film buffs and those as old as me surely will remember the Kramer legacy that included HIGH NOON and THE CAINE MUTINY, as well as:

  • SHIP OF FOOLS (Racism)
  • THE DEFIANT ONES (Racism)
  • GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (Racism)
  • IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (Greed)
  • JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG (Fascism)
  • INHERIT THE WIND (Creationism vs. Evolution)

The message films of Mr. Kramer attacked social issues in America unlike any Hollywood director in the '50s and '60s. So what did this 12-and-a-half-year-old think of ON THE BEACH? I can close my eyes and still remember the opening scene and the closing scene. There is a large banner hanging from a park tree with the inscription of "THERE IS STILL TIME ... BROTHER."

The story begins in Australia. The year is 1964. We soon find out that the entire northern hemisphere population is gone due to nuclear fallout. It appears to be the end of the human race. We never are told who started the war or why. The fallout is drifting southward. Australia has but five months to prepare for the end.

ON THE BEACH, however, is not as much about death, as it is about the magic of life. Life is a beautiful treasure. Remember this is a Stanley Kramer film. Like so many movie classics, the camera and the musical score brings color to the story. Giuseppe Rotunno and his black and white camera enhance the approaching horror. And Ernest Gold, who often wrote the music for a Kramer film, again created every emotion possible with his strong score. The famous Australian tune, "Waltzing Matilda" will stay with you long after the film is over.

The cast reminds us of how much we miss these actors today. Gregory Peck (as Dwight) is the submarine captain. Ava Gardner (as Moira) is breathtaking as the worldly woman who craves his love. Fred Astaire (as Julian) is a scientist and a race car driver. We forget what a fine actor he was. A very young, handsome Anthony Perkins plays Peter. Mary Holmes plays his wife. Their final scene together in the closing minutes of the film is devastating.

A few days from publishing this review, imagination will become a scary reality. Who knows if Kim Jong Un and North Korea are bluffing. Who knows how our military will be ordered to respond? One thing is for certain. This is not 13 days in October of 1962. The world is a different and more dangerous place.

This coming week will eventually come and go. I just wonder how this 2017 story will end. Deeply moved and still haunted after so many years, how can I score anything other than an "A".

"THERE IS STILL TIME ... BROTHER!"

PREVIEW OF COMING ATTRACTIONS

Next week another major movie arrives in Las Vegas. LOGAN LUCKY will receive a high "B" score from me. It was the absolute opposite of what I was expecting. If you like the style of one of America's greatest directors and if you enjoy surprise performances from all of the actors and if you know that crime really does pay -- you are going to really enjoy LOGAN LUCKY.

Director Steven Soderberg revisits his OCEAN TRILOGY on hillbilly steroids.

I had to ask myself several times if this was a Soderberg film or one that was conceived and executed by the Coen brothers.

The caper stars Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a former local football hero who has just been laid off from his job. Katie Holmes plays his ex-wife Bobbie Jo. Their young daughter Sadie, played by Farrah Mackenzie, almost steals the movie. But she has some mighty fine competition.

Jimmy's younger brother Clyde is played by Adam Driver (and boy is he good). If you think of the Coen brothers, think of a one-armed bartender who is an Iraq War veteran. Get the picture?

Add in Mellie, played by Riley Keough. She is a combination of speed freak and hairstylist. But the best of all is Daniel Craig -- who just might get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as Joe Bang, an incarcerated explosive expert. We always knew he could act. But he is hysterically funny!

I didn't even recognize Seth MacFarland as obnoxious Max Chilbain; but you may recognize Marvel's Winter Soldier -- played by Sebastian Stan, in a cameo role.

This movie is not for everyone. I heard my fellow film critics grumbling out in the hallway after the movie. Again -- if you like the Coen Brothers (third time saying it) you are going to have a good time.

See you at the movies!

Looking ahead to what's coming this summer? Bob Fisher has the blockbuster box office guide to this summer's movie season!

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