Starring: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardener, Anthony Perkins, Fred Astaire
Director: Stanley Kramer
Distributor: MGM DVD
Picture Melbourne, circa 1964, with no motor vehicles on the main streets – just bicycles, horses and the odd trusty tram. Petrol is scarce in the wake of a nuclear accident that has left life the northern hemisphere completely obliterated. Only here in the south does it linger on. But not for long. A radioactive cloud is making its way across the entire planet and experts estimate that it will be here in just a few months.
Into this bleak, black and white landscape steams Commander Dwight Lionel Towers (Gregory Peck) and his crew aboard the USS Sawfish, a nuclear powered submarine that has thus far escaped harm. He and his men are duly welcomed ashore by Lieutenant Peter Holmes of the Royal Australian Navy (Anthony Perkins giving the Aussie accent a decent go) who invites the Commander home to his place for a party. Here Towers meets the self- appointed town drunks – a nuclear scientist (Fred Astaire in his first dramatic role) and a lusty dame named Moira in whom he discovers a welcome kindred spirit.
Ava Gardner is plain marvellous as the leading lady in this post apocalyptic treasure but by all accounts she loathed the experience of making it. “We’re down here to make a movie about the end of the world,” she famously proclaimed to the press, “and this certainly is the place for it.” Despite the stellar cast, this is no Hollywood movie – the ending is as far from genre as is humanly possible to imagine. Yet it resounds with as much meaning today as it did when it was released back in the midst of the cold war. Only the endless repetition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ strikes a sore note but since the music won a Golden Globe Award, even that can be endured.