On Golden Pond is a 1981 American family drama film directed by Mark Rydell from a screenplay written by Ernest Thompson adapted from his 1979 play of the same name. It stars Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda (in his final theatrical film), Jane Fonda, Doug McKeon, Dabney Coleman and William Lanteau. In the film, Norman (Henry Fonda) is a curmudgeon with an estranged relationship with his daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda). At Golden Pond, he and his wife nevertheless agree to care for Billy, the son of Chelsea's new boyfriend, and a most unexpected relationship blooms.
|On Golden Pond|
|Directed by||Mark Rydell|
|Screenplay by||Ernest Thompson|
|Based on||On Golden Pond|
by Ernest Thompson
|Produced by||Bruce Gilbert|
|Edited by||Robert L. Wolfe|
|Music by||Dave Grusin|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Associated Film Distribution
|Box office||$119.3 million|
On Golden Pond was theatrically released on December 4, 1981 to critical and commercial success. Reviewers praised Rydell's direction, Thompson's screenplay and the performances of the cast, while the film grossed $119.3 million domestically, becoming the second highest-grossing film of 1981 in North America. It received ten nominations at the 54th Academy Awards, including for the Best Picture and won three; Best Actor (for Henry Fonda), Best Actress (for Hepburn), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
An aging couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer, continue a tradition of spending each summer at their cottage on a lake called Golden Pond, in the far reaches of northern New England. When they first arrive, Ethel notices the loons calling on the lake "welcoming them home"; Norman, however, claims he does not hear anything. As they resettle into their summer home, Norman, who is about to turn 80, has memory problems arise when he is unable to recognize several family photographs, which he copes with by frequently talking about death and growing old. Ethel does her best to liven up the atmosphere – they play Parcheesi, admire the natural scenery, and talk to the mailman, Charlie, who delivers mail and visits via boat.
They are visited by their only child, daughter Chelsea, who is somewhat estranged from her curmudgeon of a father. She introduces her parents to her fiancé Bill and his 13-year-old son Billy. Norman tries to play mind games with Bill, an apparent pastime of his. Bill lets him know that he knows what Norman is doing and he doesn't really mind, but that he will only take so much of it. In another conversation, Chelsea discusses with Ethel her frustration over her relationship with her father, feeling that even though she lives thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, she still feels like she is answering to him. Before they depart for a European vacation, Chelsea and Bill ask the Thayers to allow Billy to stay with them for a month while they have some time to themselves. Norman, seeming more senile and cynical than usual due to his 80th birthday and heart palpitations, agrees to Billy's staying.
Billy is at first annoyed by being left with elderly strangers with no friends nearby and nothing to do. He resents Norman's brusque manner, but eventually comes to enjoy their Golden Pond fishing adventures together. Billy also begins to enjoy reading books in the cottage, first reading Treasure Island and later A Tale of Two Cities. Billy and Norman soon grow obsessed with catching Norman's fish rival, named "Walter", which leads to the accidental destruction of the Thayers' motorboat in a rocky area called Purgatory Cove. Norman gets thrown overboard and suffers a head wound and Billy dives in the water to save the old man. They are later rescued by Ethel and Charlie. Once healed, Norman goes fishing with Billy and they finally catch "Walter" but they eventually release the fish. Chelsea returns to find out her father has made friends with her fiancé's—now husband's—son. When she sees the change in her father's demeanor, Chelsea attempts something Billy accomplished that she never could: a backflip. Chelsea successfully executes the dive in front of a cheering Norman, Billy, and Ethel. Chelsea and Norman finally fully embrace before she departs with Billy.
The final day on Golden Pond comes and the Thayers are loading the last of the boxes. Norman tries to move a heavy box, but starts having heart pain and collapses onto the floor of the porch. Ethel tries unsuccessfully to get the operator to phone the hospital, and goes to comfort her husband. After being given nitroglycerin by Ethel, Norman says the pain is gone and attempts to stand to say a final farewell to the lake. Ethel helps Norman to the edge of the lake where they see the loons and Norman says they are calling on the lake "saying goodbye". He notes how they are just like him and Ethel, that their offspring is grown and gone off on her own, and now it is just the two of them.
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Jane Fonda purchased the rights to the play specifically for her father, Henry Fonda, to play the role of the cantankerous Norman Thayer. The father-daughter rift depicted on screen closely paralleled the real-life relationship between the two Fondas. The producers originally offered the role of Norman Thayer to James Stewart but he declined.
Screenwriter Thompson spent his summers along the shores of Great Pond, located in Belgrade, Maine, but the film was made on Squam Lake in Holderness, New Hampshire. The house used in the film was leased from a New York physician and was modified significantly for the shoot: an entire second floor was added as a balcony over the main living area at the request of the production designer. After the shoot, the production company was contractually obligated to return the house to its original state but the owner liked the renovations so much that he elected to keep the house that way and asked the crew not to dismantle the second story. A gazebo and a small boathouse were also relocated during the shoot.
The Thayer IV was the name of the boat used in the film. There were three Thayer IV's used in the movie, including one replica used for the crash scene. One was a 1950 Chris-Craft Sportsman (U22-1460), bought by a family in 1982 from marine coordinator Pat Curtin. The other boat, also a Chris-Craft Sportsman (U22-1802), was sold in 1983 by Curtin, and was the boat which Fonda and Hepburn used for their excursions on Golden Pond. At the same time, the buyer of U22-1802 also purchased the replica used in the crash scene. Although the Chris-Craft Sportsman was the main boat used in the movie, the script called for the Thayer IV, a mail boat, a canoe, and a replica of the Thayer IV. These were provided by Patrick Curtin of Eastern Classics, a boatyard in Laconia, New Hampshire, specializing in the restoration of mahogany speedboats. Following World War II, the Sportsman model reappeared as a direct descendant of its 1937 predecessors. The popular model stayed in the Chris Craft line up until 1960. The use of a 1950 Sportsman model as the Thayer IV in On Golden Pond did much to generate interest in antique and classic boats.
Despite their many common acquaintances and long careers in show business, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn had not only never worked together, but never met until working on the film. On the first day of shooting, Hepburn presented Fonda with her longtime companion Spencer Tracy's "lucky" hat, which Fonda wore in the film. Hepburn, who was 74 at the time of filming, performed all her own stunts, including a dive into the pond. The scene in which Norman and step-grandson Billy run their boat into the rocks was filmed repeatedly. The vintage 1951 mahogany Chris-Craft boat, used strictly for the crash scene, was so sturdy that it kept bouncing off the rocks without any damage. The crew had to modify the boat so it would break away in the wreck. The water level in Squam Lake was so low during the summer of production that Fonda and Doug McKeon could have stood during the scene in which they were supposedly clinging to the rocks for fear of drowning. The September water was barely knee-deep, but it was cold enough that the pair had to wear wetsuits under their clothes. Hepburn, on the other hand, dove into the water without the aid of the wetsuit because she wanted the scene to keep its authenticity. Some of the scenes in which Billy takes the boat out on his own were filmed on nearby Lake Winnipesaukee. While filming the scene where Fonda and Hepburn were watching the loons on the lake, the speedboat that zoomed by and disturbed them was so forceful it overturned their canoe in one take. Fonda was immediately taken out of the water and wrapped up in blankets as his health was fragile by then.
The town of Holderness offers boat tours of Squam Lake and the filming locations from the movie. There is also a restaurant called "Walter's Basin", which is named after the trout called "Walter" that Billy catches with Norman. For filming, "Walter" was brought in from a trout pond at the nearby Castle in the Clouds estate. He was released after his capture back into Squam Lake. Leftover footage of Fonda and Hepburn driving through the New Hampshire countryside, as seen in the opening credits, was later used for the opening of the CBS television sitcom Newhart.
The studio behind the film was ITC Entertainment, the British company presided over (until late 1981) by Lord Grade, the television and film mogul. It was Grade who largely raised the financing for the film.
On Golden Pond received critical acclaim with critics highlighting the screenplay and performances of the cast (particularly of Hepburn and Henry Fonda). The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 93% based on 43 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn are a wondrous duo in On Golden Pond, a wistful drama that movingly explores the twilight years of a loving marriage."
On Golden Pond was a treasure for many reasons, but the best one, I think, is that I could believe it. I could believe in its major characters and their relationships, and in the things they felt for one another, and there were moments when the movie was witness to human growth and change. I left the theater feeling good and warm, and with a certain resolve to try to mend my own relationships and learn to start listening better ... watching the movie, I felt I was witnessing something rare and valuable.
As a successful Broadway play, On Golden Pond was processed American cheese, smooth, infinitely spreadable and bland, with color added by the actors ... the movie ... still American cheese, but its stars—Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman—add more than color to this pasteurized product. On Golden Pond now has the bite of a good old cheddar ... Mr. Fonda gives one of the great performances of his long, truly distinguished career. Here is film acting of the highest order ... Miss Hepburn ... is also in fine form. One of the most appealing things about her as an actress is the way she responds to—and is invigorated by—a strong co-star ... she needs someone to support, challenge and interact with. Mr. Fonda is the best thing that's happened to her since Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart ... an added pleasure is the opportunity to see Dabney Coleman [in] a role that goes beyond the caricatures he's usually given to play ... On Golden Pond is a mixed blessing, but it offers one performance of rare quality and three others that are very good. That's not half-bad.
TV Guide rates it 3 ½ out of a possible four stars, calling it "a beautifully photographed movie filled with poignancy, humor, and (of course) superb acting ... there could have been no finer final curtain for [Henry Fonda] than this." Channel 4 sums up its review by stating:
Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn both shine in an impressively executed Hollywood drama. [It] has its mawkish moments but there's a certain pleasure in that, and writer Thompson's analysis of old age is sensitive, thought-provoking and credible.
Not all reviewers were impressed. David Kehr of the Chicago Reader:
The cinematic equivalent of shrink-wrapping, in which all of the ideas, feelings, characters, and images are neatly separated and hermetically sealed to prevent spoilage, abrasion, or any contact with the natural world ... Mark Rydell's bright, banal visual style further sterilizes the issues. The film exudes complacency and self-congratulation; it is a very cowardly, craven piece of ersatz art.
American Film Institute recognition
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions – No. 22
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes:
- "Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armor. Don't you forget it. You're going to get back on that horse, and I'm going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we're gonna go, go, go!" – #88
- "Come here, Norman. Hurry up. The loons! The loons! They're welcoming us back." – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – #24
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers – #45
- AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
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- "Barbarella comes of age" Archived 2008-01-31 at the Wayback Machine, The Age, May 14, 2005. Accessed January 9, 2008. "If Barbarella was an act of rebellion, On Golden Pond (1981) was a more mature rapprochement: Fonda bought the rights to Ernest Thompson's play to offer the role to her father."
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- The Brass Bell. Summer 2010
- New Hampshire Business Review. May, 1982.
- The Brass Bell. July, 1985.
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- Savage, Jack. "Chris-Craft – Enthusiast Color Series". P. 79
- New Hampshire Business Review. May 1982.
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- "Chicago Sun-Times review". Archived from the original on 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2021-05-01.
- Canby, Vincent (4 December 1981). "New York Times review". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2016-10-05. Retrieved 2017-02-11.
- "TV Guide review". Archived from the original on 2020-08-10. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
- "Channel 4 review". Archived from the original on 2008-01-31. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- "Chicago Reader review". Archived from the original on 2008-01-31. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- "Time Out London review". Archived from the original on 2008-01-31. Retrieved 2008-01-08.
- "The 39th Academy Awards (1967) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2011-08-24.
- "The 34th BAFTA Awards (1984) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2011-08-24.
- "The 39th Golden Globe Awards (1982) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2017-04-11.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2011-06-23.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-06-24. Retrieved 2011-06-23.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Nominees" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-11-12. Retrieved 2011-06-23.
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