Thursday, November 17, 2016
ON THE BEACH (1959)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, cosmological, psychological*
"You're about to say something serious," says Donna Anderson's character to Anthony Perkins' character, "I wish you wouldn't."
After watching Stanley Kramer's version of Nevil Shute's bestseller, I wish that I might have said something similar to Mr. Kramer. That's not to say that the original novel was any improvement on the film, though reportedly Shute didn't like the film. Though I never had read, and probably never will read, the Shute novel, I suspect that it shares the film's attempt at "high seriousness" about the audience's fears of a nuclear armageddon.
Aside from serving as a producer on THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DOCTOR T, the 1959 ON THE BEACH seems to be arch-naturalist Kramer's only flirtation with metaphenomenal cinema. In my view BEACH shows simply that Kramer, whatever his altruistic motives, was unable to make a compelling film on this type of subject, and should have stuck to his more naturalistic proclivities.
I came away from a re-viewing of BEACH not with any deep feelings about the atomic bomb, but with a deep sense of boredom, from watching a bunch of Hollywood actors sit around looking glum about the impending doomsday.
Not that they don't have reason: most of humanity has been eradicated by a nuclear catastrophe-- though not necessarily war-- and the last survivors have assembled on the continent of Australia. However, fallout clouds are advancing on mankind's last redoubt, and so the survivors have to take stock of their lives before they come to an inevitable end.
However, the characters are pretty damn boring, making them far from fitting representatives for mankind's twilight. I don't imagine Shute's work-- aimed at a melodrama-loving bestseller audience-- gave Kramer much to work with. But almost all the characters-- Peck, Astaire, Perkins-- sound pretty much the same. Ava Gardner steals what show there is to steal as the alcoholic would-be lover of Peck, but in the end she's pretty boring too.
As low-rent as Roger Corman's apocalyptic flicks were, I think that any of them-- even TEENAGE CAVEMAN-- probably have more of substance than this bloated Hollywood valentine to the ineviyability of death.