On the BeachFollowing the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, internationally acclaimed novelist Nevil Shute powerfully and precisely predicted the devastating impact of nuclear proliferation in one of the most important anti-war novels of the 20th century, On the Beach.

Fallout considers the enduring resonance of On the Beach as it explores the writing of Shute’s novel and the making of the famous Hollywood movie when producer and director Stanley Kramer brought Hollywood, and Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck, to Melbourne.

Nevil Shute Norway worked as an aeronautical engineer by day and wrote novels at night under the pseudonym of Nevil Shute.   During WW11 Nevil Norway worked for the UK’s Department of Miscellaneous Weapons where he developed secret weapons used against Germany and its civilians.

The role of scientists in the abject horror of war and finally the atom bombs dropped on Japan, challenged Shute’s conscience leading him to depict the devastating impact of a nuclear war in On the Beach , one of the most significant end of the world anti-war novels of the 20th century.

On its release in the United States in 1957, On the Beach had a huge impact selling four million copies.  It caught the eye of producer and director Stanley Kramer who recognised the strength of the material and optioned the novel immediately.

On the Beach was the first Hollywood film to be shot in Australia and was set in Melbourne, Shute’s new home following his relocation to Australia in 1950.  It was to star Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins, and newcomer Donna Anderson.

The Eisenhower Government fearing an American public becoming knowledgeable to the reality of a nuclear war attempted to discredit everything to do with Kramer’s film and refused him permission to use a US submarine.   However, Australia’s Prime Minister Menzies believed the publicity for Australia would be beneficial and allowed access to an Australian Navy aircraft carrier for the film’s production.

Initially the collaboration between Kramer and Shute was harmonious.  However Shute was to express displeasure with several aspects of Kramer’s interpretation, in particular the depiction of the relationship between the Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck characters and the use of American actors and not Australians.

Nevil Shute died a little more than a month after the film’s completion from a major stroke in 1960.  When On the Beach was released in 1961 it premiered simultaneously in 16 cities throughout the world – from London to Tokyo, Los Angeles to Rome, New York to Melbourne.  It also screened in Moscow and as such was the first American film to be seen in the Soviet Union.

Fallout is an exciting, fascinating and hugely entertaining documentary by international award winning director Lawrence Johnston (Eternity, Life, Night) and producer Peter Kaufmann, and a timely reminder of the precarious nature of nuclear proliferation, and of Nevil Shute’s prophetic vision,

Fallout will screen at the National Film and Sound Archives Arc Cinema in December. For more information and screening times, visit: www.nfsa.gov.au for details.

Image: production still from On the Beach