On the Beach (1959) Movie Review

This is a classic that everyone interested in survival and prepping must watch.

On the Beach (1959) ORIGINAL TRAILER

Plot Synopsis

In 1964, World War III killed all humans in the Northern Hemisphere due to nuclear fallout. The only remaining inhabitable areas are in the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere, but air currents are slowly bringing the fallout south.

On February 12, 2001, at approximately 10:30 a.m., survivors on the coast of Western Australia pick up a perplexing Morse code signal emanating from the United States West Coast.

The American nuclear submarine USS Sawfish, now under Royal Australian Navy command, is directed to sail north in quest of the signal’s origins. Capt. Dwight Towers commands the submarine, which leaves behind Moira Davidson as a new friend.

Meanwhile, scientists deduce that the radiation levels near the Arctic Ocean are, or rather should be, lower than those elsewhere in the northern hemisphere, suggesting that before the fallout reaches the Southern Hemisphere it may lessen in intensity.

The submarine arrives at Point Barrow, Alaska, and discovers radiation levels have only intensified instead.

The Sawfish arrives in the San Francisco Bay area.

The crew discovers a city devoid of any signs of life; San Francisco is a necropolis. One of the sub’s crew, Ralph Swain, abandons the submarine and swims to land in search of his family there. Scientist Julian Osborn tells Capt.

Towers that he’ll be massively irradiated due to his contact with the intense concentration of fallout in the Bay area and claims it is impossible for him to return aboard the sawfish without similarly dosing the rest of the crew.

The next day, Capt. Towers sees Swain on the periscope, noting that he’s fishing in the bay. Swain apologizes for abandoning his ship and his duty, explaining that he preferred to die in his hometown since there is no escaping what’s coming.

Towers tells him he understands, bids him farewell, and orders the Sawfish to make way for San Diego.

Lt. Sunderstrom goes ashore wearing radiation and oxygen equipment to look for the source of the strange signals near San Diego.

Due to the intense radiation, he has just one hour of time ashore, and is notified of his mission timer by a horn blast from the Sawfish every 15 minutes.

He has orders to return immediately upon the sounding of the third blast. With grim determination, Sunderstrom sets off.

He enters an electric station that is automatically controlled, and he finds a telegraph there. Hanging nearby at an open window, suspended from the pullcord of the blinds, a glass bottle is moved about by the breeze.

It is the bottle that has been bumping the key of the telegraph machine, and it is this that has been sending out the signals that brought them half way around the world.

The power station’s backup generators are shut off, but not before a message is sent by Sunderstrom via Morse code to report on the critical situation. Sunderstrom turns to return to the Sawfish.

The Sawfish crew returns to Australia dejected but accepting the conclusion of their journey.

While visiting Moira’s father’s farm, Towers learns that all US Navy personnel stationed at their Brisbane base have perished. Towers is promoted to Admiral of the United States Navy forces remaining in Australia.

Osborn wins the Australian Grand Prix, where numerous racers die in a variety of accidents after realizing they have nothing left to lose.

Towers and Moira who began their fishing trip a few weeks early. Drunken revellers encircle them as they sit by the seashore. They can hear more inebriated fisherman singing “Waltzing Matilda” from their resort room.

Towers and Moira enjoy a romantic interlude while the storm outside howls. The fishermen sing a haunting but magnificent version of the song’s ominous final verse.

Towers returns to Melbourne, where he learns one of his crew has radiation sickness, indicating that the deadly fallout is arriving.

Osborn locks himself in a secure garage with his championship racing car and decides to take his own life by carbon monoxide poisoning as he guns the car’s engine for the final time. The Australian government begins handing out suicide pills to those who want them.

Towers is torn between his desire for Moira and the need to return to the U.S.

Many of his remaining sailors want to return to the United States in order to perish there in the land of their births; in the end he chooses his duty over his love for Moira, and boards the boat as it heads back across an irradiated ocean to an empty United States.

Moira watches the Sawfish depart Australia for the last time and submerge for their final trip back home.
Within a week’s time, the last pockets of humanity have perished.

The empty windswept streets of Melbourne are punctuated by the emergence of music over a single, poignant image of a previously seen Salvation Army street banner.

It reads, “There is still time … brother.”

Critical Reception

The film recorded a premiere loss of $700,000. Despite this, the movie has been warmly received by critics both in its day and ever since.

The Beach, which premiered simultaneously in all theaters across the world, was significant film for a world still trying to come to terms with living in the shadow of atomic warfare.

Stanley Kramer attended the premiere in New York, as well as Cary Grant and other notables such as Klement Gottwald. Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr.’s presence was noted at the debut in New York.

The Soviet ambassador to Great Britain, Yakov Malik, was present for the London showing. Star Ava Gardner was there for the Rome screening.

The Japanese Imperial Family was in attendance at the premiere in Tokyo. King Gustav VI Adolf attended the Stockholm screening. Premier of Victoria Henry Bolte attended the Melbourne showing. Other screenings were held in West Berlin, Caracas, Chicago, Johannesburg, Lima, Paris, Toronto, Washington D.C., and Zurich.

The film was shown on a large screen in an ice theater near Little America station at Antarctica’s South Pole.

The fact that The Longest Day did not receive a commercial release in the Soviet Union is remarkable, yet an unusual premiere was nevertheless organized for that evening in Moscow.

Peck and his wife went to Russia for the screening, which was held at a workers’ club with 1,200 Soviet political leaders, diplomats from numerous countries, and journalists from both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Lessons for Preppers

A haunting and remarkably human post-apocalypse, On the Beach has some equally sobering lessons for preppers. A watch of this film and some sincere personal reflection is enough to cure most gung-ho type of their desire for war due to boredom.

The film looks at the very real possibility of the aftermath of a nuclear exchange and its devastating effects on humanity. To be blunt, much of humanity is wiped out, and what pockets remain are dropping like flies. This is a reminder that surviving the onset of such cataclysmic nuclear events is anything but guaranteed.

In Melbourne, one of the last places on earth to be affected by the radiation fallout after a nuclear war, the remaining survivors soon realize that they only have a short time left to live.

Many people in the film struggle with whether or not to end their life before they are affected by the radiation and the subsequent hideous, painful death.

This is a difficult decision that many preppers may also face in the event of a SHTF scenario. Questions of perseverance and faith must be considered now before you are faced with that dreadful choice.

The film also shows the importance of community in times of crisis. The survivors in Melbourne come together to support each other and help those who are struggling.

Despite a, quite literal, no-win situation , the characters in the film manage to find some happiness and hope in their short time together. This is something that preppers should also keep in mind if they are forced to face a similarly difficult situation.

What appear to be pivotal breakthroughs or spots of hope turn out to be anything but in On the Beach.

Scientist John Osborne (played by Grant) predicts that radiation levels will drop and life will go back to normal within a year, but he is wrong.

The mystery signal coming form America is nothing more than the most heartbreaking instance of happenstance. In the film, there is no such thing as a quick or easy fix after a nuclear war.

This is an important lesson for preppers, as any of us might have to contend with all of out plans and hopes coming to nothing but ash. What will you do in the aftermath of such a revelation?

That’ a Wrap!

In the end, On the Beach is a sobering look at the devastating effects of nuclear war. It is a film that should be watched by all preppers in order to better understand the possible consequences of a SHTF scenario.

Excellent acting and a great story makes this a wonderful movie. Has some sad moments and certainly not the end that I wanted to see – but worth watching.

last update: March 31st 2022

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3 thoughts on “On the Beach (1959) Movie Review”

  1. Actually this movie has been re-made as well and yes it can be very depressing, the truth usually is. The movie is very emotional and moving, if it does not invoke a tear at the end you may have some issues but overall this is a good movie.


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