Some scenes in ‘On The Beach’ especially haunt:
the Stanley Kramer black and white movie based
on Neville Shute’s novel of nuclear
apocalypse. The US and Russia –
by accident or design is unclear –
have depopulated each other
and the rest of the northern hemisphere,
except for continuous morse signals,
that make no sense, emanating from
a refinery in San Diego,
Southern California. Perhaps someone
somehow survived the radiation.
The nuclear submarine, USS
Sawfish, sequestered by chance in Melbourne
when the cataclysms occurred, leaves port
to find out. As the sub approaches
the West Coast, crew from ‘Frisco ask the captain
if they might view the city through the periscope.
He agrees. The street car rails, in an empty
Market Street, glint. One of the sailors absconds,
swimming ashore to the Ferry Terminal,
knowing he will die from radiation
in days. The vessel sails out of the Bay,
under the Golden Gate Bridge, and down the coast
five hundred miles to San Diego.
They find no one alive. The morse equipment,
powered by a hydraulic generator,
is in an abandoned office block.
The morse key has been attached to a half-full
bottle of Coke, which, in turn, is attached
to a drawn blind at an open window.
As the wind blows across the Pacific
so the blind trembles, the Coke bottle jerks,
and the key taps, taps – long, short, short short, long –
depending on the air, which will, in time,
irradiate the global south.
'On The Beach'Gregory PeckNeville ShuteSan DiegoStanley Kramer