I'd like to spank the Academy

On Golden Pond (1981)

On_golden_pondDirected by Mark Rydell

I’ve always liked the image evoked by the title of this movie. Golden Pond always sounded like such a lovely and peaceful place. But although I love Katharine Hepburn, I had never seen this movie. It was one of those that I always vaguely felt in the back of my mind that I should watch, but I had never made the effort. It turns out that it was a little bit hard to watch. My father is aging faster than I would like, and although I’ve always had a good relationship with him, this movie poked a sad spot in my heart. If actors like Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda can get old, what’s to stop the rest of humanity? It’s not comfortable to be confronted with mortality.

So what’s the story? Norman and Ethel are opening their summer house on the lake when they get a letter from their semi-estranged daughter, Chelsea. She wants to come for Norman’s 80th birthday and bring her boyfriend Bill to meet them. With Bill and Chelsea comes Billy, Bill’s thirteen-year-old son. Chelsea asks if they can leave Billy with Norman and Ethel while Chelsea and Bill go to Europe for a month. Norman, Ethel and Billy learn lessons about growing up and growing old during their summer together on Golden Pond.

The Good: Katharine Hepburn is good as always, although it is a little strange to see the normally elegant Hepburn flipping someone off and calling Henry Fonda “Old Poop.” But she sparkles with happiness at being in her beloved place and just generally glows. Henry Fonda also does a fine job as Norman, who is getting old and unsteady and losing his memory a bit. But it’s Doug McKeon as Billy who was the real surprise. He manages to hold his own while playing opposite two screen legends. He puts on a show of bravado, but underneath he’s a kid who is feeling abandoned and unwanted. His friendship with the irascible Norman is a lovely thing to see.

The filming location is lovely. I’m not sure where it was filmed, but the natural beauty of the land led to some nice cinematography.

The Bad: While I’m pretty sure the point of this movie was the reconciliation between Chelsea and Norman, I didn’t much care for the parts with Jane Fonda at all. She made Chelsea come off as a spoiled brat, even though Chelsea is a grown woman. The reasons for Chelsea’s problems with Norman were never made very clear, either. Yes, he’s a grumpy person and tends to snipe at people, but he does that to everyone. If the estrangement was about something other than that, it’s never said. That isn’t Jane Fonda’s fault; that’s just slightly sloppy storytelling. But it made Chelsea look oversensitive and whiny.

The movie is a bit over-scored for my taste. The music is good music, but there’s just too much of it for such a quiet movie. And during the scene in Purgatory Cove, the music sounded downright jaunty, even though the scene was not. It didn’t work for me.

The Ugly: I always hate admitting this because it makes me feel whiny and immature, but I got bored. There were scenes that I loved, but some parts just dragged on. I liked it a lot better once Chelsea and Bill left and it was just Ethel, Norman, and Billy. I could have watched more of that odd fellowship. Why did Chelsea have to be in it and ruin it with her whining? (And yes, I realize that I’m whining about whining.)

Oscars Won: Best actor in a leading role (Henry Fonda); best actress in a leading role (Katharine Hepburn); best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium.

Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a supporting role (Jane Fonda); best director; best cinematography; best sound; best film editing; best music, original score.

Comments on: "On Golden Pond (1981)" (5)

  1. I can totally see Katharine Hepburn calling someone “Old Poop.” I mean, she’s more feisty than elegant in African Queen. (Incidentally, I thought this week would be the African Queen year, because I can’t think of any other Oscar-nominated missionary movies.)

    Too bad it’s kind of boring and Jane Fonda’s character is annoying.


    • Maybe elegant is the wrong word. How about classy? I think that may work better.

      Also, it’s funny you can only think of African Queen, because I know for a fact that you have seen the missionary movie I was referring to.


  2. (After googling the other nominees)–Chariots of Fire may have a missionary in it, but it’s not what I would consider “a missionary movie.”

    I would, however, consider it a freakin’ awesome movie that has a missionary as one of its central protagonists.


    • Ah, but I did not say it was a missionary movie until after you said it. Also, I wouldn’t consider African Queen to be a missionary movie, either; it’s just a freakin’ awesome movie that has a missionary as one of its central protagonists. 😉 But I think there is technically more preaching in Chariots of Fire. Either way, though.


      • You’re right. I came up with the “missionary movie” phrase. You just said there were missionaries.

        Yeah, African Queen has less preaching; but her being an uptight missionary is pretty central to the charcter development of that story.


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