Preparing for the release of “On the Beach”

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In 1959, United Artists released the major motion picture On the Beach, based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Nevil Shute.  Both the book and the movie depict a post-apocalyptic world resulting from a nuclear war.  As the first major movie about nuclear conflict, it threatened to stir up international sentiment against war and nuclear weapons.

On the Beach (1959) (c) United Artists

In the movie, starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins, the nuclear fallout from World War III has killed all life in the Northern Hemisphere.  Natural air currents are slowly forcing the radiation south and only the southern most parts of the Southern Hemisphere are still populated.  The last U.S. Navy submarine undertakes a mission to identify signals coming from the Northern Hemisphere while people in Australia await the doom that comes with the radiation that is approaching.

The movie received significant advanced publicity and plans were set for simultaneous premieres in the United States and fifteen cities around the world, including Berlin, Johannesburg, London, Melbourne, Moscow, Paris, and Tokyo, on December 17, 1959.  To provide directions to its overseas posts on how to handle questions and comments about the picture, the United States Information Agency (USIA) issued the following “INFOGUIDE” (information guidance) on December 4.

On the Beach.guidance.1On the Beach.guidance.2On the Beach.guidance.3On the Beach.guidance.4On the Beach.guidance.5


Source: INFOGUIDE 60-24, December 4, 1959, file Nuclear Energy – “On the Beach,” Subject and Policy Paper Files, 1953-1961, NAID 1274177      Office of Policy and Plans/Office of the Special Assistant for Operations Coordinating Board Affairs, Entry 334, RG 306: Records of the United States Information Agency.