On Golden Pond (1981) – Mark Rydell

The next title up in the Ten Bad Dates with De Niro book, under the category of movies not to watch while you are medicated, is this classic Oscar-nominated film starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, and Jane Fonda.

The film, based on the play by Ernest Thompson, who also wrote the screenplay, follows Norman (Henry Fonda) and wife, Ethel (Hepburn) as they spend their forty-eighth summer on Golden Pond. Norman is getting on in years, is a bit of a crank, and not above playing mind games, and Ethel loves him dearly. The two actors really create a sense of history with each other, and it’s hard to believe that this was the one and only time that they worked together.

The same can be said of Fonda, and daughter Jane.  She plays Chelsea, the couple’s daughter, and her own relationship with her father, Fonda, is not so dissimilar from the one that Norman and Chelsea share, aiding a stronger emotional layer to the film, as Chelsea, and Jane (?) wonder why there father couldn’t just love them, be there for them, be their friend.

Chelsea has plans to go off to Europe for the summer with Bill Ray (Dabney Coleman – an interesting casting choice,but one that works) and hope that her parents can look after Billy Ray (Doug McKeon) while they are away.


An unlikely friendship strikes up between Norman and Billy, and it shapes both of them, opening them up to the world, and as characters. Something that both hurts and delights Chelsea when she discovers it.

It’s a gentle, slow-moving film that wanders around the lake’s edge, not quite as shakily as Fonda’s ageing Norman, but this is definitely a film that won’t hold everyone’s attention – which is apparently why it ended up on this person’s list of movies not to watch while medicated.

Hepburn and both Fondas are top-notch, and the film garnered a number of Oscar nods and wins. Henry and Katharine both walked away with Best Actor awards and Thompson with Best Adapted Screenplay.

It’s a warm piece of filmmaking, reflecting the sun off the lake into the viewer’s heart as you see the love story between husband and wife, and father and daughter. It’s not always easy to get on with one’s parents, but recognising that they are part of your life, is for some, a very important thing to do, and finding space for them in one’s heart can be painful, but can also be worth it.

This was a great watch, and while I don’t agree with it making this person’s list, I was glad it showed up on one of the lists I have been working my way through, and it gave me a chance to settle in and enjoy it.

Let’s see what Ten Bad Dates with De Niro brings me next…



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