As we in Victoria, Australia gingerly come out of our fourth COVID19 LOCKdown and the streets of Melbourne are still near-deserted I am hauntingly reminded of the apocalyptic, end-of-the-world, sci-fi drama On The Beach based on the Nevil Schute novel of the same name.
Considering this Stanley Kramer directed movie was first released in 1959, I suspect that a large percentage of the population have already seen the original and/or the 2000 TV movie.
If you haven’t…. ATTENTION! potential ‘spoiler alert!’ ahead.
As in the novel, much of the story takes place in and around Melbourne and many of the locations still exist. The principal filming took place between mid-January to late March 1959, so we see Melbourne in fine summer weather.
Although some of the buildings look familiar, many have since been partially renovated in the name of progress.
The storyline is pretty straightforward.
It takes place in January 1964 when the American nuclear submarine USS Sawfish arrives in Melbourne, Australia, after World War III between America and China.
American Captain Dwight Towers (Gregory Peck) confirms that the rest of the world has been destroyed and that nuclear fallout is now on its way to Australia. As wind currents move the lingering radiation around the globe, and with little more than five months to survive the Southern part of Australia appears to be the only refuge left for the dwindling inhabitants of the once overpopulated Earth. Accepting that their invariable fate is slowly approaching, the crew of the submarine begin to socialise with the locals.
On leave from his command, Captain Towers ventures down to Frankston where he meets the aging yet enchanting, alcoholic Moira (Ava Gardner), Australian Navy Lt. Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) and his wife Mary (Donna Anderson), along with the excessively-drinking, nuclear scientist and wannabe formula one racing driver, Julian Osborne (Fred Astaire). Later in the story, we also meet the highly homesick able seaman Ralph Swain (John Meillon)
Even though it is filmed in black&white this is certainly not a lightweight B grade movie. It is a powerful and thought-provoking anti-war tale and it’s poignant sentiment of human courage, desperate love, and the obvious absence of a happy ending is still relevant today.
It is interesting to note that considering it is a movie based in Australia, the producers felt it necessary to cast an American as an Australian and an Australian as an American … go figure! See if you can pick who I mean
Apart from the first-class ensemble of actors, for me, with the passing of time, the real stars are now the genuinely iconic locations of Melbourne.
These superb sites such as Frankston railway station (Young St, where Dwight and Moira meet and leave in a horse & Buggy), which has since been remodelled, is especially nostalgic for me for I can remember the station looking the same as it does in the movie.
The other wonderful spots like Footscray Town Hall, Williamstown and the State Library, Melbourne (the scene with Preacher on the steps) are instantly identifiable as they have hardly changed from their appearance in the movie.
But it is locations such as Canadian Bay, Mount Eliza (sailing scenes), Marysville, Victoria (fishing scenes), Thirteenth Beach, Barwon Heads (the Moira diving scene) and Port Lonsdale, Victoria (the scene where Moira Davidson watches Dwight’s submarine exit Port Phillip Bay) that are the real treat to see, for they have barely changed and it is almost as if every scene could be reshot there again today.
This is a fantastic piece of movie history that was filmed in and around my hometown. It makes me proud to watch this movie even if Ava Gardner is quoted to have said that Melbourne was a perfect place to make a movie about the end of the world.
I think Melbourne is the perfect place to make any kind of movie.
If you’d like to learn more about the making of the film and the magnificent Melbourne locations where it was filmed, have a look at the links below.
If only for historical interest value, this is an intriguing set of documentaries, with my favourite being Part 1 & 2 talking about ‘Where it was filmed’ from Phagl Productions.
Melbourne Becomes A Dead City 1959. ‘On The Beach Filming – A Cinesound Newsreel
On the Beach (1959) Review A YouTube find
Swain Stays Behind – On The Beach (1959) The heart-wrenching scene when Ralph Swain (John Meillon) jumps ship and goes home
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie the five times I’ve seen it. I truly feel good seeing the Melbourne of my youth on the screen with those big-name Hollywood stars, even if they do think that the only song Aussies know is Waltzing Matilda.
Catch it on, Stan.
To view the original trailer click the link below
I was once told by my mother that during filming, she (along with hundreds of other movie fans), with a three-year-old me in her arms, ventured down to Canadian Bay Mount Eliza and stood a few hundred yards away, behind a parameter fence to witness the filming of the sailing scenes. ‘I wish I could remember it.’
PHOTO Concept and Design By Beata Gombas (c) 2021