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On Golden Pond (1981, Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda)



‘On Golden Pond is a class act which exudes an aura of historical importance due to its once-in-a-lifetime casting coup,’ Variety wrote of Mark Rydell’s New England-set drama, based on the play by Ernest Thompson. ‘Without question, these are major, meaty roles for Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, and there could have been little doubt that the two would work superbly together.’ Both Fonda and Hepburn won Academy Awards for their performances, with Hepburn’s triumph making her the only actor to ever win four Oscars.

The film’s a family drama in every sense, with Henry joined by real-life daughter Jane and director Rydell casting his son Christopher. The story takes place at the Thayers’ country home, with patriarch Norman (Fonda) about to celebrate his 80th birthday. While Norman’s never happier than when he’s complaining about something, wife Ethel (Hepburn) is forever upbeat and positive. Daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) arrives to join in the celebrations, bringing her boyfriend Bill Ray (Dabney Coleman) and his teenage son Billy (Doug McKeon) along.

The relationship between father and daughter is strained, while the father/ potential son-in-law relationship consists of a one-way stream of sarcasm. Things don’t look good when Chelsea and Bill announce that they’re off to Europe and are leaving Billy with Norman and Ethel for the summer. However, the old grouch takes the teenager fishing and the duo soon hit it off, hunting for the biggest fish in the lake. When Chelsea and Bill return as a married couple, they find a surprisingly happy family. Although she’s pleased that her father and son have bonded, it leads Chelsea to question her own difficult relationship with her father.

production details
USA | 109 minutes | 1981

Director: Mark Rydell
Script: Ernest Thompson, based on his own play,

Jane Fonda as Chelsea Thayer Wayne
Katharine Hepburn as Ethel Thayer
Henry Fonda as Norman Thayer Jr.
Doug McKeon as Billy Ray
Dabney Coleman as Bill Ray