Thursday, December 03, 2009 - 10:47 AM
Twenty years ago today, at a press conference aboard the Russian cruise ship Maxim Gorky, the end of the Cold War was officially declared. And yet the fear accompanying nuclear weaponry remains, as evidenced by President Obama's explanation of the stakes in Afghanistan on Tuesday night: “We know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.”
It is in this context that we recall a film that captures the deepest anxieties at the height of Cold War tensions. Stanley Kramer's 'On the Beach' premiered 50 years ago this month in both Washington D.C. and Moscow, and it's as terrifyingly real today as it's ever been. Based on Nevil Shute's 1957 novel of the same name, the film stars Gregory Peck as the captain of the USS Sawfish, a naval submarine searching for signs of human life following catastrophic nuclear warfare in a third world war.
In this scene, a scientist played by Fred Astaire (in his first non-musical role) explains the reckless thinking that led to so much destruction.
The film's release on both sides of the Iron Curtain didn't prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis a few years later. But it did exist as a powerful warning to the two superpowers that playing with fire can burn the whole block.