On Golden Pond (1981) Poster

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Veteran actors prove they can still hack it on Golden Pond.
movieman922 July 2000
Mark Rydell's On Golden Pond was a surprise hit in 1981, finishing third in box office grosses after Rocky III and E.T. Such an occurrence was unheard of in Hollywood, considering the key players in the film, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, each had not had a hit film in almost twenty years and were both hardly spring chickens in the business. Both these veteran actors proved they could still make it in Hollywood among young starlets, and triumph. Still, when you see "On Golden Pond," you sense that their teaming together for the first time in their careers is purely a special occasion, an opportunity of a lifetime that few actors in their seventies receive. They in turn have left us with a wonderful showcase of movie talent, a film of warmth, good humor, and love.

It always amazes me when I read that Henry Fonda had only received two Oscar nominations during his career, one of which he earned for this film. Like his good friend Jimmy Stewart, Fonda was rarely a boisterous actor. He had a natural ease to his acting, a gift for making audiences believe that every word he uttered was truth. Now, in his final screen performance as Norman Thayer Jr., Fonda had to reach deep into his own personal experience and his advancing years to create a character who struggles with his own mortality. Norman is a grouchy curmudgeon who has memory lapses and heart palpitations. He has a loving and cheerful wife, Ethel (Hepburn), but a difficult relationship with his only daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda). He and Ethel journey back to their cottage on the lake for what may be their last summer. Immediately, Norman comes face to face with his old age and his inability to remember what should be familiar sights. I especially like the scene where he gets lost in the woods looking for strawberries and scares himself when he is unable to find his way back. Ethel has such faith in him, sure he will "get back on that horse" and be as valiant as he once was. What more could you want from a wife?

Chelsea arrives after many years away from her parents, bringing with her a new boyfriend (Dabney Coleman) and his son, Billy (Doug McKeon). You can sense the tension between Chelsea and Norman the minute she walks in the door. This reunion is fascinating not only because we can never tell where the difficulty lies in their relationship, but also the fact that these problems also exist on and off the screen. The father-daughter relationship between Henry and Jane was also very turbulent ever since Jane began her protests in Vietnam, much to the chagrin of her father. This collaboration of the two was meant to mend fences between them. Not often do the personal lives of actors collide so eloquently in Hollywood, but here it seems just about right.

The sequence where Norman and Bill (Coleman) attempt to build a conversation is originally conceived and acted so naturally. He carefully asks Norman if it would be alright if Chelsea and he sleep together in the same room at the cottage. Of course, Norman makes this confrontation as difficult as possible, making Bill nervous and jerking him around. Ironically, Bill comes back at him, not allowing Norman to use him in petty mindgames and hoping they would become friends, which is obviously "not an easy task." This is an unsettling turn for Norman and the audience, but it is necessary for the story to progress and for Norman to respond accordingly to the other characters in the story.

Ethel and Norman volunteer to let Billy stay with them for the summer while Chelsea and Bill head off to Europe. Billy is not pleased with the arrangement at the outset, but gradually bonds with Norman through learning to fish on the pond. While Billy is not necessarily an original character, it is fascinating to see him try to understand Norman, and in turn how Norman learns to associate with the son he never had. It is a learning experience for both of them, even though they are many generations apart.

Many reviewers have remarked that ON GOLDEN POND uses a conventional story and revives it with great performances from the cast. It is interesting to note that the screenwriter, Ernest Thompson, altered his own play in order to escape a bit of the conventionality that the film medium required. The framework may seem as original as an old shoe, but the added touches in the script and its delivery give this film a certain magic that only classical Hollywood films possessed. Fonda has a great way to end a career with this role, placing himself completely within Norman's world and searching within and through the role for his own solutions to life's problems. His Oscar was given to him for more reasons than mere charity. Hepburn is delightful as Ethel, working so well with Fonda that it does not seem as if they are acting. For a couple of old Hollywood actors who never even met before this, they each prove they are true masters of their craft. Jane Fonda takes a supporting role this time, incorporating some of the same motives as her father into her part, and as a result delivers a special performance. Mark Rydell is one of those directors that often gets left off the list of the all-time greats, but proves once again here he is a masterful storyteller. In this project, he allows both the visual elements of the pond and his actors to make magic, a truly memorable combination.

On Golden Pond is not an epic, but what it accomplishes runs close to epic proportions. It is very rare that a stageplay converts so well to the screen like this one. On Golden Pond is vibrant, emotional, and so heartfelt, it is impossible not to like, unless you are a curmudgeon like Norman Thayer. It is also unique that great actors such as these will agree to try again for Hollywood glory so late in their careers. It is up to us viewers to experience this wonder before the chance is lost and these thespians finally close up the cottage and head off to their retirement.
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Warm, reflective, touchingly basic human drama, with Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn offering treasured performances in their twilight years.
gbrumburgh-119 March 2002
"On Golden Pond" is simply an old-fashioned testimonial to long-lost youth and facing one's mortality, and, in its simplicity, becomes a life-affirming valentine to those who feel that time has become the enemy - a seemingly ageless, universal perception. If not for the magnificent acting duet between Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, this lovely, sentient piece would have been ignored by most moviegoers. But buoyed by these two acting legends, it manages to circumnavigate the heavy, mawkish waters -- rising far above and beyond anybody's expectation. Earning a whopping ten Oscar nominations, Ernest Thompson's reflective screenplay won one of those Oscars, but, for me, it's Dave Grusin's soothing, glistening score that is the stronger selling point here, adding immeasurably to the film's ruminative tone and gently rustic surroundings.

Henry Fonda plays brusque, cantankerous Norman Thayer, a one-time college professor approaching his 80th birthday with a mixture of anger, cynicism and fear as he shows signs of losing his faculties. Norman is not a particularly kind or considerate gent. Abrupt, callous, remote, and ill-equipped to offer nurturing support of any kind, living with Norman must have been quite an ordeal for those growing up under his roof. As a means of self-preservation, their only child, Chelsea, has long estranged herself from the family, unable to emotionally come to terms with her unhappy, unhealthy relationship with her father.

Fonda offers the most affecting, endearing performance of his durable career. He manages to use Norman's undesirable traits to his advantage, investing in his character a gruff charm and cynical sense of humor that is totally winning. He melts away the harmful, negative elements, as Carroll O'Connor managed to do for Archie Bunker, and makes Norman not only funny and entertaining, but loveable. As a result, Fonda becomes the glowing centerpiece of `On Golden Pond,' and it is this portrayal, along with his `Grapes of Wrath' Tom Joad, that will remain indelibly etched in our hearts and minds for decades to come.

Kate Hepburn is his Ethel, a loving, pragmatic anchor who obviously has played an important role in the lifetime success of this complicated man. Devoted to a tee, Ethel understands and compensates for the weaknesses of her husband. She valiantly assuages his deepening fears with good-natured kidding, feigned hopelessness, and careful but subtle guidance. She is Dulcinea to his Don Quixote. As a lioness would shield an endangered cub, she has automatically assumed the roles of caregiver, protectorate and confidence booster without pause or grief. Only for Ethel does Norman step out of his shield of emotional armor and display a genuine affection that is lost to others, including himself. Hepburn absolutely radiates with warmth and vitality, providing the film with a necessary center. Though less flashy and substantive, both she and Fonda were Oscared for their work here, with Hepburn winning a record-breaking fourth 'Best Actress' award. Incidentally, this was their ONLY screen pairing, yet they work together as if they've known each other all their lives.

Fifteen-year-old Doug McKeon manages to hold his own among the star power here as a young resentful upstart whose dentist father (Dabney Coleman) is romantically involved with Chelsea. Forced to play out the rest of his summer with the old folks while his father and girlfriend spend quality time together, he learns a delicate lesson or two as he develops an unlikely bond with Norman. Coleman himself has one edgy, amusing scene as he tries to gracefully deal with an overly wry Norman.

Surprisingly, the weakest story link involves Norman's strained relationship with daughter Chelsea, played by Hank's own daughter, Jane Fonda (Oscar-nominated). The familial situation obviously parallels their own real-life lack of connection, but the scenes seem strangely shallow and self-serving as they forge through some mucky emotional moments as if striving for real-life closure. What should have been insightful and compelling comes off forced and distracting, particularly on Jane's part.

Henry Fonda's own physical frailty at the time of shooting adds a special poignancy to the film. Ironically, Hepburn won her second Oscar in 1967 for playing another wifely Rock of Gibraltar in `Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?' The ailing Spencer Tracy died shortly after the completion of that film. Fonda would pass away a few months after winning his only Oscar.

A most welcome and satisfying diversion that touches with its unpretentiousness, `On Golden Pond' is a lovely, lovely little film that should resonate for ages to come.
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Really great!!!
Elizabeth-32817 February 2000
I really enjoyed "On Golden Pond". I wanted to see it, because Henry Fonda won his only Best Actor Oscar for it. Since I'm a Henry Fonda fan, I thought I should watch the movie the Academy considered his best. When I watched it, I really enjoyed it! It makes you not want to take life for granted, in any way. For Norman, he learns not to take life for granted by enjoying it. He also learns not to be so crotchety, and not to dote on death. His daughter, Chelsea, learned to forget about her differences with her father, and to love him while she can.

Katharine Hepburn also gives a brilliant, Oscar-winning performance as Ethel Thayer, Norman's devoted wife. She helps him in more ways than the audience realizes, because she tries to make him feel young, which is what he needs.

"On Golden Pond" is a wonderful movie with a combination of drama and comedy that makes for an entertaining experience. I recommend this movie to everyone!
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Walter and Norman are one and the same
Dan Grant21 September 1999
On Golden Pond is a film that proved to me that acting is a beautiful thing when it comes from some of the veterans and the greats. I have always had the opinion that most acting from the 60's and earlier is one dimensional and flat. But then I saw this film and I realized that I was watching two of the best, from any era. Fonda and Hepburn are absolutely stunning in here and they so richly deserved to win their Oscars that year. And not only am I mad to see that Chariots of Fire beat out Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it also beat this film out as best picture, and that is a shame, and a crime.

On Golden Pond reminded me a little of my relationship with my grandfather. It's not that we didn't get along because we did, but at times it was a little strained simply because of the age difference. But Billy soon learns that Norman Thayer Jr. is not just an old man, but he is a guy that has a lot say and he can offer him so much and of course they become friends. So we all know how the movie is going to end up, but it is the execution that is the strength of the film. We watch as these two grow together. We sense that they are becoming more at ease with each other and when we finally see our two guys catch that guarantuan fish named Walter, by this time we are pretty much sure what they are going to do. And it's kind of funny to draw parallels between Walter the fish, and Norman the crusty old man. But both have been around the pond for years. Norman's life wouldn't be the same if his quest for the fish was never there. Perhaps the same with Walter, perhaps he has enjoyed alluding Norman for all these years. But now the game is up, but it doesn't have to be. Norman caught him, perhaps that's all that should matter. You can draw your own conclusions from that analogy. But I like the way it comes out.

On Golden Pond is a treasure. It is sweet, tender and honest. You will never see a performance better than the one Henry Fonda gives in this one. And this made me want to go out and rent some of the films that the two screen legends were in before and I have to admit that their early work is impressive. But it is here that they shine like never before. So my recommendation is this. If you are young and would never imagine seeing a film like this because it doesn't have someone like Sara Michelle Gellar or Arnold Schwartzenegger in it, then take the take advice of someone who had the same pre-conceived notions when I was 15. No Sly, no Spielberg? Hey forget it, not my cup of tea. But this will give you a new appreciation of film. It really is that good.

And for those of you that have seen it, remember this line? "Wife's name is Ethel Thayer, thounds like I'm lithsping dothsn't it? " What a great film.
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Henry Fonda saves his best for last
SmileysWorld20 July 2002
Oh,the numerous memorable characters Henry Fonda brought to the screen over the years.His most memorable came in his final film,On Golden Pond. This film brought to light two important realizations for me.Family togetherness is one of the most important things we have in life,and we had better resolve our differences as a family and get along because we can't go back and correct the things we come to regret.Secondly,I came to realize that elderly couples are more than the stereotype we sometimes force upon them.They don't cease to be affectionate and sexual merely because they have gotten older.Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn made a delightful couple here and make you wish they had worked together more often through the years,but unfortunately,this was their first and only film together.Also,the pairing of Fonda with real life daughter Jane was indeed a delight to see.Their own troubled relationship made them naturals for their parts as a father and daughter coming together after years of tension.You could sense that at times, Henry and Jane were not acting at all when it came to their scenes with one another,making these scenes more realistic and effective.Henry Fonda received a well deserved Oscar for this film.I watched the night he received it,and recall his reaction from his home(he was too ill to attend the ceremony),and the tears streaming down his face.I couldn't help but shed a tear or two myself.I'm sure I was not the only one.Great film.
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The tale of true and everlasting love
AslaugRuotsalainen16 June 2003
It's not many years ago I watched this film for the first time. Had to admit that before watching it I was a bit skeptical, I thought it would be just one of those boring hyper-romantic films but....

Finally when I got the chance to watch it I was breathtaken! This film is simply a masterpiece of a time that, unfortunately, is long gone. A time where love could last a lifetime and still be beautiful at the end of life. How many of those films are made today in this hasty divorce filled time? Not many I'd say!

It was such a beautiful experience to watch this film and in a strange way it made me also sad. Mainly because today's world isn't like that anymore for how many people can stay in love and care for eachother after 50 years? The theme of everlasting love, knowing eachothers habits through a whole life is really something very very special.

The roles as the elderly couple were also played with such an honesty that it was amazing and the music plus the landscape and the actual calmness of the film makes it into a film that won't ever be forgotten; at least it shouldn't be!

Of course it's romantic but it's also realistic and that's what makes it different from other socalled romantic films. There's a catch in it and there's something to think about too!

The beauty of these two old people and their relationship is something I believe many people will envy. Having been together for half a century and still being so much in love as the film shows.

A film that ought to be seen by people who still dare to believe in lifelong love and for those who don't - forget about it then you'll just waste your time or think "jee, that's ridiculous"...
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It kept me laughing
Marie-6222 April 2003
When I first heard of this movie I didn't think that it would be much. I knew that Katharine Hepburn would be older and the plotline of two older people being in a cabin on a "golden pond" wouldn't be that exciting. How wrong I was. This movie kept me laughing for two hours and for days after that. Hepburn is sweet and sincere in her love for Fonda, Henry is funny as the smart aleck who is scared of dying, and Jane Fonda is wonderful as their daughter who feels as if she never really belonged. The boy who played Billy was terrific. I can't believe how funny this movie really was. Watch for the moment where the Bill Sr. and Fonda talk about grizzly bears. Definitely one of the most touching and hilarious movies I have ever seen! A real screen gem!
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Surprisingly Entertaining
iwatcheverything16 September 2003
I was expecting a very boring movie. All I thought about this was a couple of old people sitting around talking at some cabin. I was way off. This film is quite the opposite. Things do happen that make this movie well worth watching. Henry Fonda is excellent and made me laugh really hard with his sarcastic answers to many questions. I do believe Jane Fonda was not in the film enough. Of course we can't go without mentioning Katherine Hepburn. She is one of the greats and this film has proof.

This is a film I would definitely recommend to others. It is light hearted and dramatic all at the same time. Watch this film it will entertain you.
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Reflective twilight year musings on aging & relationships
roghache24 March 2006
This is an extremely well crafted film, although I believe a little overrated from a sense of nostalgia for its beloved talented and now aging stars, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. Of course the cinematography is magnificent, with lovely country scenery and beautiful lakeside vistas, all well incorporated into the emotional aspects of the picture.

The movie brings the viewer into what is probably the last of many summers spent at their Golden Pond cottage by retired professor, Norman Thayer, an ornery old codger, and his cheerful, loving wife, Ethel. Their semi estranged 40 something daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), comes to visit, in honor of her father's 80th birthday, bringing her new fiancé, Bill. The younger couple leave Bill's young teenage son, Billy, with Chelsea's parents while they jaunt off to Europe for a couple of weeks on holiday.

It's a film that is character driven, and all about relationships. For me, the most moving is that between husband and wife. Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn give brilliant Oscar winning performances as the aging Thayer couple, Norman and Ethel. Their relationship, the love, support, and comfortable banter, is so amazing on screen it is impossible to believe they aren't actually married in real life. Norman has become quite frail and has troubling health concerns, both physical (heart palpitations) and mental (some memory loss). Mind you, this film is all a bit depressing with Norman's anxieties about his mortality (no comforting faith mentioned here, unfortunately) and of course his aging. Ethel is jovially comforting, especially when he gets a little lost in the woods while they are out picking strawberries together. This scene is beautifully done by both spouses. He's a sympathetic but crotchety character to say the least, yet she always manages to deal with him affectionately.

Also, the relationship between Norman and the fiancé's young son... Although Billy has earlier been rather miffed at being stuck with these old folks for the summer, Norman develops quite a touching grandfatherly relationship with him, as the two go fishing together and so forth.

The only relationship that doesn't come off well here is the strained father / daughter one between Norman and Chelsea that presumably is meant to reflect the real life tensions between Henry and Jane Fonda. Frankly, Chelsea seems more like a self absorbed teenager or 20 something, trying to find herself. By age 40, she should have done so and become a genuine support to these elderly parents of hers. I really like Jane Fonda in some of her roles, but this particular character hasn't much depth and is little asset to the movie. Hopefully, at least making On Golden Pond together helped to mend any real life fences between the two Fondas.

In any case, the film examines skillfully the aging process from the very personal perspective of a loving couple going through it, and as such is a movie not to be missed.
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Perfect characterisation of relationships and contains all the simple pleasure that time forgot
greatbritain198920 July 2005
There is a film like this very rarely and indeed it works like we actually do know the Thayers. Indeed we can most certainly relate to Henry Fonda while Katharine Hepburn is more then an incredible actress. In this film the mix of drama and comedy from her as a character shows why she won that record breaking fourth Oscar statuette.

I'll just say the story in a nutshell. Jane Fonda and her father did not get along. Jane, however wanted one last chance for a close bond to her father and bought the rights to the play "On Golden Pond." In the film the Oscar winning performance by Henry Fonda (his only in a career spanning decades.) Jane fully deserved her Oscar nomination for her exceptional (and of course very realistic performance.) In the actual film the chemistry of Hepburn and (Henry) Fonda is perfect. This film really to try to put into words is a really touching gem that makes you feel so uplifted. Your spirits soar and any relationship that can be amended and is anywhere near as strong in the film (From Hepburn and Fonda) shows us what acting can do.

Oscars abound, critical praise and very likely the last of the old fashioned melodramas (Mainly because acting has moved on a generation from these sorts of films.) The sentiment and feel is perfectly placed and the storeys clicked so much like the Fonda Father- Daughter relationship. It is a warm intelligent character based film that i would advise everyone to see at once!
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This is magical...
flypen12 March 2001
It is such a treat to see two of the screen's most distinguished performers interacting in this wonderful film. I dare say that their brilliant performances made this film the magical experience that it is. Watching this movie, I couldn't help but be completely won over by Henry Fonda's portrayal of the cranky old professor dealing with old age. He was totally perfect, and despite being cranky most of the time, very lovable. I believed that he gave the performance of his career in On Golden Pond. And Katherine Hepburn was great as usual, in the less difficult but equally likable role of Fonda's wife. I cried many times during this movie, not only because the story itself is wonderfully touching, but also because of the sheer joy at seeing two great stars together, giving the performance of their lives.
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A treasure
Calysta9 January 2000
Cinematically, "On Golden Pond" is a breathtaking movie. The enveloping surrounds of the woods, the shimmering gold of the pond at dark, the loons, the details of the water plants. Rarely I have seen such a eye captivating piece of film. And set to the gentle, breezy thought provoking music makes it nothing short of perfect.

Reduced to a single plot line, this movie would sound rather silly. It is one of those films in which the lead actors already supercede the brilliance of the writing. This of course could be expected from two of Hollywood's best loved veterans. There were things in the movie I could see coming due to experience, but the amount of plot turns was amazing. There was also enough direction, good in the sense the director achieved getting what he wanted, but without interfering too much with the performances.

Henry Fonda, in his final performance as the cranky, lovable Norman, made me sit up and take notice in his only Oscar deserved role. I had seen him previously in earlier films like "The Grapes of Wrath" and "12 Angry Men", but I disliked both of them. His pivotal performance in the interaction of the 13 year old Billy was incredibly funny, moving and something that many people could relate to because of the generation gap.

The film truly captured the spirit of Katharine Hepburn, not very much unlike the loving, cheerful Ethel herself. At least twice in her legendary career she was passed over for two Oscars she deserved, for "The Philadelphia Story" and "The African Queen". It was great of the Academy to hand Kate her last well deserved award.

The other support actors managed to do a pretty great job. The exception was Jane Fonda for her performance as Chelsea. It may or may not have been her fault, but her acting was pretty weak, regardless of the script.

Underneath it all, there are messages. Things that we could help mend but with our continued prejudiced beliefs never happen. The example of this was the tense relationship of Norman and Chelsea, a problem staring them in the face but could have been solved if only there were a little faith. In real life, we don't have to look much further than our front door to find these things.

"On Golden Pond" has taken its place as one of my favourite movies. The nominations and Oscars it received that year was well deserved. I love the movie mostly through the fact that violence and special effects are not needed to drive it, too typical of movies right now. It was made at a time when these things were too sadly emerging, so it was really a breath of fresh air amongst sameness. The movie was wholesome indeed, but it had something else. It was compelling drama, and real to life honesty and humanity are all that is needed to make it a movie great. And its all these elements for which it should be credited.

Rating: 9/10
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Perfecly Acted
JoshtheGiant5 April 2006
On Golden Pond is the film version of a major stage play by the same name. On Golden Pond has three of cinema's best performances by Henry Fonda, Katherin Hepburn, and Jane Fonda. I had expected good performances by Henry Fonda, who was also amazing in 12 Angry Men, and Hepburn, who has been amazing more times to count. The one great performance I wasn't counting on was Jane Fonda who from what I had seen before now seemed to have inherited none of her fathers talent. She was brilliant in a fairly small roll as the estranged daughter of Hepburn and Henry Fonda. The script and direction are also very fine and very close to the play. The cinematography and score are also brilliant. On Golden Pond is also surprisingly hilarious and is very heartfelt.
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What a joy!
Luis Diaz18 November 2005
I saw this movie back in the 80's and it is wonderful to be able to see it again. Every line, every gesture, every scene in which Katherine Hepburn and/or Henry Fonda appear is a real joy. As we get older, we appreciate their wonderful work. If you liked this film, I highly recommend you to see "Wrestling Ernst Hemmingway" and "The Straight Story". We can benefit from listening to our elders and remembering we (hopefully) one day will be in their shoes. The generational gap between Billy and Norman can only be filled with mutual care and respect, so it is also a good idea to see this film in family, especially if you can gather grandparents and grandchildren. I did and it has worked miracles on their already good ties.
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One of the warmest,richest and most human films of all
apfortony23 March 2002
I first saw this picture 20 years ago in the movie theater and loved it. I remember Fonda and Hepburn having the whole theater in stitches. "It's me, you old poop!" got me started laughing this time and as the film progressed, I was in tears both from laughing and crying. Being just 20-years-old when I first saw it, I can appreciate what Norman was going through better now. Jane Fonda purchased the film rights to Ernest Thompson's play and actually produced the picture for her father. That plus his death not long after make viewing this film even more poignant. Both Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn give magnificent performances and thankfully they are captured on film. I remember watching the Oscars for the year On Golden Pond was nominated and being ecstatic when they both won. It would have been nice if the movie had won also but oh well. I noticed that there are pearls of wisdom for everyone in this movie. For me, it was when Ethel tells Chelsea that life marches on, no matter what we are sad or bitter about. Just an excellent film. 10 out of 10.
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Lifted above mere sentimentality by the strength of the acting
James Hitchcock7 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"On Golden Pond" was the surprise hit of 1981, the second highest grossing film of that year after "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Yet it is not the sort of film for which one would normally predict great box-office success. It is about as different a film from "Raiders" as one can imagine. Whereas Spielberg's blockbuster is a testosterone-fuelled action-adventure, "On Golden Pond" is a quiet, reflective drama about an elderly couple spending the summer by a lake.

The film was adapted by Ernest Thompson from his play of the same name. (Remarkably, given his theme of old age, Thompson was still in his twenties when he wrote it). Although attempts are made to open the action up by including scenes shot outdoors (there is some very attractive photography of the New England scenery), it clearly betrays its origin as a stage play with its limited number of characters and preponderance of dialogue over physical action.

The central characters are Norman (aged eighty) and Ethel (aged in her late sixties) Thayer, who spend every summer at their second home on Golden Pond, a lake in New Hampshire. (The word "pond" in American usage can clearly mean a far larger body of water than it does in Britain). The plot focuses on the relationship between Norman and Ethel and their daughter Chelsea, who pays them a visit together with her fiancé Bill and his twelve-year-old son Billy. (Were women of Jane Fonda's generation ever named "Chelsea"? I though that only began to be used as a girl's name in the sixties).

Jane Fonda purchased the rights to the play as a vehicle for her father Henry, doubtless because she saw in the turbulent relationship between Norman and Chelsea Thayer a reflection of the equally difficult real-life relationship between the Fondas. Norman is in many ways the most important character in the film. It is clear that he has always been a difficult man to get on with, and age does not seem to have mellowed the cantankerous old man at all. He bickers constantly with his long-suffering and more placid wife Ethel, although it is clear that despite their verbal battles they have a deep affection for one another. "You old poop!" might not normally be regarded as a term of endearment; as used by Ethel about her husband it becomes one.

The father-daughter relationship between Norman and Chelsea is clearly more problematic, although the roots of their estrangement are never made clear. Possibly Norman resents his daughter for not being the son he longed for but never had, and he make his dislike of her new fiancé all too obvious. What serves to bring father and daughter back together is the special bond which grows up between Norman and young Billy, whom he and Ethel look after while Chelsea and Bill are away on vacation in Europe. Norman might not have a son, but Billy, although not related to him by blood, is the grandson he always wanted so they can go on fishing trips together. (Chelsea's first marriage, which ended in divorce, was childless).

The film stars not only Henry Fonda as Norman but also another great cinema legend, Katharine Hepburn, as Ethel, and both won well-deserved Oscars for their performances. Fonda's award seems to have come as something of a surprise; in the course of his long career he had received only one previous acting nomination, for "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1940, and the year before making "On Golden Pond" had been given an "Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement". (Such awards are often interpreted as meaning "we're sorry that you've never had a real Oscar and are never likely to get one, so please accept this consolation prize with our apologies"). This was to be Fonda's last film; he was to die a few months after receiving his award. In Hepburn's case this was her fourth "Best Actress" award, setting a record which still stands. Jane Fonda was nominated for "Best Supporting Actress" but missed out, possibly because she already had two Oscars on her mantelpiece and the Academy thought it would only be fair to spread the honours more evenly.

"On Golden Pond" can, at times, be rather sugary, but for the most part it is lifted above mere sentimentality by the strength of the acting. During the seventies the cinema had become increasingly youth-obsessed, a trend which was to continue throughout the eighties (and, indeed, is still continuing today). It therefore comes as a refreshing surprise to come across a film from this period which stars in its leading roles two actors in their seventies. Like "Ordinary People", which won "Best Picture" the previous year, this film is a drama which explores, in a sensitive and sympathetic manner, the difficulties faced by ordinary human beings doing their best to cope with life. 7/10
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Reflections on a golden time.
Howlin Wolf30 July 2006
The title makes it sound twee, but "On Golden Pond" slowly uncovers its rewards the deeper we get into the story. It hands H. Fonda and Hepburn subtle material with which to work. I confess I was expecting excessively sentimental and patronizing portraits of senior citizens to be laughed at and milked for fuzziness a la "Cocoon" and the oh-so-limp "Batteries Not Included", but there is some real spark and bite here, and it's only fitting given the talents involved. The presence of family seems to have a rejuvenating effect, helping to keep minds sharper than given credit for fresh for as long as possible as they make discoveries with each other. Make hay while the sun is shining, the wonderful cinematography and laid-back performances seem to be urging us.

It's nice to see all generations treated as equals and on the same playing field, for once; and just like their characters, the elder statesmen and women of the cast show they've still got the moves to make the younger end raise their game to stay level. "On Golden Pond" is a glorious celebration of what it is to have life in the palm of your hand, and how to live like you do even if the numbers are telling you otherwise.
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..the best for all..
fimimix3 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I've read all of the comments, and agree with them except for one or two. I would venture those who thought this film was mushy and silly are very young people, and most probably should study it to see how they will be - they hope ! - in their own elder-years. I'm there already, but feel just like Hepburn acts, ageless.....

This WAS the most endearing role of Fonda's career - he was an opinionated man in real-life and chose his roles well, to fit his ideals. Perhaps "Tenticles" was just to pay the rent. Can't understand how some people didn't enjoy his role in "The Grapes of Wrath" - gripping tale which didn't call for over-the-top acting. This movie was a little cleaned-up for how the depression really was. "On Golden Pond" reflected the simplicity of his off-screen life - he could be seen almost daily tilling a big vegetable garden next to his home in Beverly Hills, yet. It wasn't one of the snobbish houses - just nice. A bit of trivia: some of Hollywoods biggest stars did not live in mansions - Lucille Ball, for instance - not far away from Fonda.

I truly am stumped that ANYONE could denigrate Hepburn's career. One "user" painted her as a hard woman - smart would be better. She could have married Howard Hughes, but knew his life was full of baggage. Her career withstood without scandal the open "secret" that she was madly in love with Spencer Tracy, who was hard to love. That she won four Oscars should demonstrate she knew which roles to choose and how to bring them to life, not just deliver them. WE ALL could take lessons from her on how to be true to yourself, but also be principled.

Jane Fonda was much like her dad, in that she was opinionated and fearless in expressing her opinions. Too much already about all that War stuff !! - take a very good look at "They Shoot Horses, Don't They" and you'll see this lady is a skillful actress. Maybe it and "Klute" are too old for today's "users" ? Doug McKeon gets billing over Dabney Coleman? Hmmmmmm......how did THAT happen ? I don't recall seeing McKeon in one other film - made more? I was in a Mark Rydell film and can attest - as most people recognized - his directing was brilliant, because he did exactly as folk said: get the best and let them do their roles. If Ernest Thompson won an Oscar for his screen-adaptation from his Broadway-hit, then that attests he knew his theme and made it better.

What a magical cast!, combined with a beautiful score and clear-cut cinematography. Hepburn and Fonda had acting-experience under their belts, and also knew what aging entailed. As one "user" wrote, younger people should get to know their grandparents better. Fonda's candor and delivery were a perfect match for Hepburn's supportive love - brilliant acting! I found Jane's edginess for her role to be a natural - "Billy" was the perfect example that her dad wanted a boy, perhaps as rebellious as "Billy" was.

All of this put together into a tale of lives grown goldenly ripe is fail-proof, no matter what film it was up-against. True, there won't be too many more movies from Hollywood like this film, because there aren't any actors/actresses left to do them - maybe Streep. Pitt and Jolie ? PLEASE ! I completely overlooked the shadow of the 'copter showing the scene "goofs" pointed-out - unimportant. There weren't any other goofs. Indeed, this film will live for ever, because it preserves on media which can let us watch it over-and-over again - which I do. Everyone should - simplicity, except for those who need all the "action" in today's films, is the best - tell me like it is. 20-out-of-10.....
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golden delicious!
simonrosenbaum7 November 2002
I'd managed to avoid seeing this for 20 years thinking it was too soppy. After a few minutes of watching it I realised I made a big mistake. I was immediately drawn to it by its warmth and humour, yes this was going to be a funny film! (who knew). Henry Fonda in what was his last ever role on film gave an incredible and very moving performance that was equally as funny as it was touching. The screenplay was very witty and insightful and full of life's truths and tragedy's played to perfection by the amazing cast. A joy from start to finish. (10/10)
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And golden it is in every way.....
This is one of those movies that I watch every couple of years and can feel right at home in.

Henry and Katharine together are just marvellous, as if they had indeed been married 50 years, used to each other's idiosyncrosies and still very much in love.

A magnificent swan song for Henry who has always been under-rated as an actor.

The supporting cast, including daughter Jane, are excellent and it all rings true, the daughter always seeking her father's love, her mother's love always focused on the father, a lost unhappy child of forty odd years.

The score is wonderful. I have been meaning to buy it for a long time. One of those original compositions that matches the movie's mood so beautifully.

An 8 out of 10 for this.
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One of the Finest....
thomascapital23 March 2002
Every boy deserves at least one summer on a golden pond. Swimming, fishing, goofing-off!

Every boy needs to experience their grandparents on a daily basis. Don't rush to judge them, they probably experience the Great Depression and WWII.

Henry was superb, so was Katie. I suspect that Jane showed her true self, considering she hated her father so. The young Mekeon did a fine job, you really belived that he was not acting, just being a boy, trying to figure out if he was loved, post-divorce. All young boys should find out what life is like under those circumstances. Idealistic, you say! Of course.
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Great movie - could have done without Jane
KGitt4449822 July 2003
Watch it last night, having seen it once years ago. This is a great movie about relationships, and dying, but in a comical way.

I really liked Henry Fonda ("good...GOD!") the best, and the movie really focussed on him. Katharine Hepburn was good, too (duh, they both got Oscars), but I found Jane Fonda was a downer. I understand real-life flowing into the characters and all that, but a) she was depressed, or depressing, take your pick b) she was on display during her bikini scenes (you could tell she was posing) and c) can hair get any bigger? (well, it was the 80's).

If you like guns and car chases, this is not the movie for you. If you like thoughtful dialogue, some swearing by young and old, and some interesting things to think about, then you probably will like it.
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Life goes on , on Golden Pond
seasounds122 April 2006
Many of us may wonder what it is like when you finally have to face the realities of getting old . The kids are now adults the summer cottage just does not hold the same value as before . Years ago you created the memories you reflect upon today and there is a sense of emptiness . Age takes it's toll more severely on some than on others . That staunch Yankee attitude of " Grin and Bear it " comes to light while others can not accept that their capabilities have diminished and that their roar is bigger than their bite. Hepburn being the cornerstone that supports the family togetherness , while Fonda and Fonda work out issues long overdue . They connect so well in this movie because it was a taste of reality for their own relationship off-screen not just as characters of a film .This made this story go straight to your heart ,there are memories to be made on Golden Pond even while your golden years pass by. The leaves will turn color and the song of the Loon will disappear , only to return again next year with or without you. Times will change , not necessarily for the best but , Life goes on , on golden pond .
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