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the ultimate Cold War film
on 21 June 2004
This is the film that for me captures the terror I felt as a child, growing up at the height of the Cold War; it is bleak and intense, with scenes that are forever etched in my mind. It's one of the great films of that era ("Seven Days in May" and "Fail Safe" are others) that I can watch repeatedly, and their power and impact are never diminished.
Based on Nevil Shute's best seller, and brilliantly directed by Stanley Kramer, the use of sound effects combined with Ernest Gold's Oscar nominated score is very effective. Sometimes the simplest noise set against complete silence is ominous, and gives the feeling of the desolation of empty cities.
As time runs out, people try to avoid the "morbid discussion" of what awaits them, and some make the most of those precious days, weeks and months, like the elderly scientist Julian (in an exceptional performance by Fred Astaire), who completes his dream of being a race car driver.
Both strong and tender, Gregory Peck is fabulous as Dwight Towers, the commander of a submarine, who has trouble accepting that he is alive, while his family are victims of the "monstrous war". The woman who falls in love with him is Ava Gardner, who has spent far too much time being consoled by a bottle of brandy. The plot is filled out by Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson, a young couple facing the fact that their baby has no future.
In the late 50s and early 60s, the scenario in this film was all too real; we face other dangers now, but there was something truly chilling about those Cold War years, and this film vividly brings back the memory of them. Total running time is 134 minutes.