AMAD: On Golden Pond (1981) Black Bears, grizzlies. One of ‘em came along here and ate an old lesbian just last month
Published at: July 4, 2008, 3:42 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow Jane Fonda over from Klute, jumping a decade later where she co-starred with her father, Henry, in 1981’s ON GOLDEN POND.
The image this film had in my mind was that of a stagey, heavy tearjerker of a romance. It was an inpenatratable, dull and long drama in my mind’s eye.
What nobody told me was that ON GOLDEN POND is fucking hilarious.
Seriously, why isn’t the humor in this film more well known? If I had known it was this funny I wouldn’t have put it off for years.
I guess it’s the posters… they sell only the Old People In Love aspect, but not the humor that being a relationship that long gives the day to day conversation.
That’s why I picked the line I did for the subhead. There are others that might have been better lines or easier to read out of context, but the movie is filled with this kind of humor.
Henry Fonda is a smart ass, a cantankerous old bastard, but Fonda keeps him from becoming a 2-dimensional fogey. He is slowly losing his mental faculties, but this isn’t AWAY FROM HER. The only reason that’s even involved is to flesh out Norman Thayer Jr. as a character. He’s a bit of a mean bastard because he’s afraid.
I think Katherine Hepburn, playing his long suffering, but incredibly loving wife Ethel Thayer (“Thounds like I a lithsp, dothen’t it?”), even has a line where she’s explaining her husband… something like he’s like a lion who needs to roar every once in a while to reassure himself that he still can.
The story takes place during the old couple’s summer at their cabin on Golden Pond. It’s Norman’s 80th Birthday and his estranged daughter comes to visit with her new fiancée and their son.
Fonda plays daughter to her real life father, the only time they worked together and apparently the relationship between Chelsea and Norman was pretty close to the real life relationship between Jane and Henry, so much so that a lot of the emotion we see in their heavier scenes together stem from real life regret, embarrassment and love.
There are a few different relationships in the movie, but the main focus is on Hepburn and Henry Fonda until about halfway through when Jane Fonda and her fiancée (played by the very underappreciated Dabney Coleman) ask her parents to watch her fiancee’s son, a kid in his early teens, for a month.
Doug McKeon plays Billy Ray Jr., who doesn’t appreciate being dumped by his dad and his girlfriend. But young teen angst can’t hold a match to old man crankiness. Billy dishes it out, expecting to get the old couple angry, but all he gets from Hepburn is a loving laugh (afterall, she’s lived with Norman for decades… what’s this kid going to say to shock her?) and from Norman he gets it back in spades. He’s out grumbled.
That relationship turns into a rather sweet grandson/grandparents relationship that reminded me a whole lot of the relationship I have with a pair of older folks that used to look after me when I was a young kid. They became Grandparents to me even though there is no blood to connect them to me, however there was a little bit of Norman in Vic and more than a little of Ethel in Marlene.
So, on that level the film connected with me, but I expect there’s a little bit of everybody’s grandparents in these two characters.
Final thoughts… if you have an image of this movie in your mind as being unapproachable or hard to get into, then just ignore that. This movie is genuinely funny. Yes, it has the drama and the heartfelt aspect, but neither overwhelms the story and the humor of our main characters. This was quite a pleasant surprise.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Saturday, July 5th: THE COWBOYS (1972)
Sunday, July 6th: THE ALAMO (1960)
Monday, July 7th: SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1950)
Tuesday, July 8th: WAKE OF THE RED WITCH (1949)
Wednesday, July 9th: D.O.A. (1950)
Thursday, July 10th: SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)
Friday, July 11th: THE MATCHMAKER (1958)
Tomorrow we follow director Mark Rydell over to 1972’s THE COWBOYS starring John Wayne and Bruce Dern. Happy Fourth everybody!