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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

On Golden Pond
Directed by Mark Rydell
Artisan Entertainment 12/81 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG

Since 1900, the number of people over 60 years of age has increased four time as fast as the number under 60. Today, one in seven Americans is over 60.

In the past decade, a spate of books have described the plight of many elderly individuals who are subjected to discrimination because of ageism and inadequacies in income, housing, nutrition, and medical institutional care. Yet, as Helen Landres, former media director of The National Council on Aging, has pointed out: "There are 31 million Americans who are 60 or over, and 29 million of them are healthy, busy, functioning citizens." These individuals have stories which should be heard as well.

On Golden Point presents an engaging portrait of one such couple. Norman and Ethel Thayer are in their late seventies. Summering at their New England cottage, they appear to be fairly well off financially, relatively active, and thoroughly in love with each other.

Ernest Thompson has adapted his 1979 play for the screen. Mark Rydell directs the superb cast: Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, Dabney Coleman, Doug McKeon, William Lanteau, and Chris Rydell. It was filmed in New Hampshire.

Norman (Henry Fonda) and Ethel (Katharine Hepburn) Thayer have been coming to their cottage on Golden Pond for almost fifty years. He is a 79-year-old retired professor who still enjoys perusing the classified ads in the newspaper and joshing his wife about getting a new job. She is content to simply savor their leisure time by sitting in the sun or talking to the loons on the lake.

Norman has a bad heart. He grumbles about death but is even more bothered by his waning physical and mental powers. Norman's sarcasm and crankiness are obvious defense mechanisms to cover up his extreme displeasure with his infirmities. Sent by Ethel to pick berries in the woods, he experiences a memory lapse and doesn't recognize the road. Frustration and fear overpower him until, badly shaken, he finds his way back to the cottage.

Charlie (William Lanteau), the mailman, arrives with a letter for the Thayers from their only child Chelsea (Jane Fonda), a divorced middle-ager. She is coming to celebrate Norman's 80th birthday and is bringing her new boyfriend Bill (Dabney Coleman) and his son Billy (Doug McKeon), a 13-year-old.

When the guests arrive, it is immediately evident that Chelsea and her father do not get along. Norman is very brisk with his daughter; he spars verbally with Bill, a dentist who tries hard to be cordial. Young Billy has an easier time with the old man; he is ordered to read Treasure Island and sent to his room. Later that evening the family celebrates Norman's birthday.

The next day, Chelsea and Bill leave for Europe; Ethel and Norman have volunteered to take care of Billy for the month they will be gone. After cutting through the boy's tough veneer, Norman takes him under his wing and teaches him how to fish. As time goes by, the two actually become buddies. A boating accident draws them and Ethel even closer together.

Chelsea returns without Bill who has gone to California. She announces that they got married in Europe. During a heart-to-heart talk with Ethel about her estrangement from Norman, she is advised to forget the past and get on living in the present. Before she leaves, father and daughter have a rewarding and honest chat with each other. The next day both Chelsea and Billy promise — with real affection in their voices — to keep in touch.

While packing up their things and preparing to close the cottage, Norman has a mild heart attack. Feeling helpless, terrified, and confused, Ethel realizes for the first time her husband's precious hold on life. The crisis passed, they say goodbye to the loons and Golden Pond.

 

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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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