On the Beach was not as affecting as I think it wanted to be: it felt a little slow and stilted for an end-of-the-world movie. (It probably didn't help that none of the American actors who were playing Australians had even the faintest grip on the accent: that always pulls me out of a performance.) Good cast, noble theme, but just not quite enough there there.
That said, it does contain one utterly fabulous double entendre. Gregory Peck spends the first part of the film flirting with Ava Gardner, then goes away on a long voyage. When he gets back, he finds her staying on a farm: he chit-chats with her for a minute or so and then asks, "Is your invitation to spread a little fertilizer still open?" I nearly choked.
Next, I moved on to The Cassandra Crossing, a mid-'70s disaster movie (from the director of Cobra and Leviathan, woohoo!) about a cross-Europe train with a plague carrier on board. I honestly can't even remember why I own this DVD. Nor can I remember how it got on to my "to-watch" list: maybe because it's the only other Ava Gardner film I have?
Whatever the reason, I'm glad I watched it: it's a hoot, and as '70s-riffic a film as you're likely to see anywhere. A cast of reasonably good actors slumming in this kind of dreck, a goofy '70s-experimental score, a featured song by an acoustic folkie band, a wacky rabbi, a nun (who thankfully doesn't sing along with the folkies, though I was braced for the worst), a "cute" small child, a cute dog threatened with death... the disaster-movie list checks off, element by element. And the characters... Richard Harris as The Callous Doctor Who Really Cares Deep Inside, Sophia Loren as The Doctor's Ex-Wife Who's Writing A Tell-All About Him But Who Really Still Cares Deep Inside About Him, Burt Lancaster as the U.S. Army Guy (even in a disaster film set in Europe, there's always a U.S. Army Guy) Who Really Doesn't Care Deep Inside, Ava Gardner as The German Arms-Dealer's Wife, and O.J. Simpson as The Creepy Priest (yeah, I know, hard to believe, isn't it?). I was just waiting for Donald Sutherland to show up as The Clumsy Waiter, but no such luck.
Particular "I'd really, really, really like to forget about this entry on my resumé" credit has to go, though, to Martin Sheen, who appears as Ava Gardner's boy-toy (this was 1976, don't forget), sporting a singularly unfortunate look. Singularly unfortunate. In fact, the word for how unfortunate a look he has in this film would have to be singular. Aaaahhgahhhd. (I probably shouldn't have watched this so soon after ploughing through Season Two of The West Wing... though looking especially at that third still, I now think I know what darkness was in Mr Sheen's heart when making Apocalypse Now.)
Lastly, The Train, a 1964 black-and-white WWII thriller starring Burt Lancaster (in happier days) and Paul Scofield and directed by John Frankenheimer. Very enjoyable flick: well-acted and well-directed, with a minimum of pretension. Particularly nice to see a film of this sort in which things are done for real: no models or CGI for the train crashes, no stunt-men doubling for Lancaster — who was a circus acrobat before he was an actor — in the scenes of him climbing onto or stepping off of trains going at speed, and so on. Between this and Ronin and Seven Days in May and especially The Manchurian Candidate, I think I'm almost ready to forgive Frankenheimer for inflicting Michael Bay on the world. Almost.