On Golden Pond
Director: Mark Rydell / Script: Ernest Thompson / DP: Billy Williams / Editor: Robert L. Wolfe / Music: Dave Grusin
Cast: Henry Fonda / Jane Fonda / Katherine Hepburn /Doug McKeon / Dabney Coleman
In which an estranged Father and Daughter reconcile for our viewing pleasure…
Originally a stage play, author Ernest Thompson sold the film rights of On Golden Pond to Jane Fonda, who had in mind a collaboration with her iconic father, Henry; perhaps as a way of making amends for past errors of judgement?
The resulting film was an instant classic, despite its formulaic plot. In a nutshell? Cranky, retired Professor & long-suffering wife return to their lake house for what might be the last time… Along the way, there’s a father-daughter reconciliation and a last chance for Norman (Fonda Sr) to share his passions with someone more receptive than daughter Chelsea (Fonda Jr). Boiling this down is to miss the point however, for what we’re watching is often real…
Jr had been oft-estranged from Sr, especially during Vietnam, when she’d visited the Communist North (almost to spite her father, it seemed), so this was her last chance to bury the hatchet and work alongside dad. Chelsea’s speech about wanting to be friends with her father, and how she carried a chip on her shoulder, must’ve resonated with the players as much as it did with me and its audience who, remember, would’ve been contemporaries of Jr and seen her fractious father-daughter relationship play-out over the years. This was a very public burying-of-the-hatchet.
Katherine Hepburn sparkled too, as the vinegar to Fonda’s saltiness. Her key line, directed to Norman after he recovers from an attack of angina, remains a highlight in a sensitive performance and I confess to having had a moist eye at that point.
For me, though, the unsung star of the entire show is DP Billy Williams, who shot this with uncanny skill. From an extended pan of sunrise over the lake, to the delivery of a birthday cake in a scene lit only by its candles, the film is a masterclass of cinematography.
It’s to Mark Rydell’s credit, that he gives Williams that much space. Rydell had directed a string of Westerns earlier in his career & a few misfiring star vehicles, so it’s only right that this should outlast them all. Fonda Sr. and Hepburn both won Oscars (as did Thompson).
The USA’s 2nd highest grossing film of 1981 (behind Raiders of the Lost Ark), it proved the existence of an under-served audience for sentimental material of this kind: a lesson reinforced only recently by Marigold Hotel et-al.
Skies are blue, water dappled and burning gold. If I look long enough, maybe the mail boat will make it to my place…
Grizzlies. One of ’em came along here and ate an old lesbian just last month.