February 20, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C
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Biopics

Christine

Antonio Campos' take on the Christine Chubbock suicide is all about the stunning Rebecca Hall.

Drama

Mother!

Darren Aronofsky's latest concoction can feel like Rosemary's Baby meets Apocalypse Now.

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird" gets fine work from Soarise Ronan, but ultimately flubs the script.

Rome Adventure

Delmer Daves' 1962 film, while no "Roman Holiday" or "La Dolce Vita," possesses its own small pleasures.

Zodiac

A decade later David Fincher's serial killer film still stands tall as a study in administrative futility.

Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson's dives into the British fashion world of the 1950s, and creates an difficult romance.

American Made

Tom Cruise is in top form in Doug Liman's sly take on the life and times of one Barry Seal.

Horror

It Comes at Night

Trey Edward Shults' low budget thriller links a killer plague with human mistrust and fear wins out.

Thrillers

Double Indemnity

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck are gifted actors but they can't dance the sizzle.

Science Fiction

Alien: Covenant

Michael Fassbender steals the show (twice over) in director Ridley Scott's latest "Alien" prequel.




Date: 1959
Directed by: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins

On the Beach

Hollywood's clunky adaptation of British-Australian novelist Neville Shute's post-apocalyptic novel of the same name is static, predictable and never really as ominous its grave subject matter. But given the film's 1959 release date none of that may matter. Atomic apocalypse fears peaked in the late 1950s, with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis dialing up the volume even further. As a morality tale about a world gone mad (at a time when the world seemed mad), director Stanley Kramer's black and white production tugged at an array of anxieties, and that by itself may offset its many weaknesses.

A muted Gregory Peck is Commander Dwight Lionel Towers, commander of an American sub USS Sawfish that's made its way to Australia after nuclear fallout from an unnamed conflagration has wiped out the northern hemisphere — killing the captain's family and that of the crew, though all remain in semi-denial. The stiff-upper-lip Aussies know the fallout will soon blow south, making all good cheer ring fake. Towers is named de facto American commander and sent on a last-ditch mission northward where a signal's been picked up. It's an eerie voyage that includes images of an intact but deserted San Francisco.

In Australia, he becomes involved with Moira Davidson, a miscast Ava Gardner. Only Fred Astaire in an atypical role as guilt-ridden nuclear scientist Julian Osborne — at once angry and self-destructive — saves the movie from repetitive doldrums. Young, brooding Anthony Perkins is Lieutenant Commander Peter Holmes, an Aussie (father of an infant) charged with projecting the melancholy face of hopelessness.

As a period piece, "On the Beach" balances fear, resignation and romance in the way some better post-9/11 filmmaking placed terrorism in the nagging backdrop of unrelated human drama. Once upon a time, the atom bomb trumped all around it as a source of social anxiety and public protest. Says Astaire's Osborne: "The war started when people accepted the idiotic principle that peace could be maintained by arranging to defend themselves with weapons they couldn't possibly use without committing suicide." This is lest-we-forget filmmaking that retains relevance decades later.

Reviewed by: Marcia Yarrow
Day and Boarding International High School in the Heart of Rome

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