On Golden Pond (1981)



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There's little that happens in On Golden Pond that isn't thoroughly predictable from the start, but the film is blessed with so much star power, charm and honest sentiment that everyone in the audience is willing to ignore the cliches and go the distance. In his last film, Henry Fonda plays Norman Thayer, a cranky 80-year-old retired professor, making his annual pilgrimage with his wife Katharine Hepburn (in her only teaming with Henry Fonda) to their New England summer cottage. Their solitude is interrupted when the couple's daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) arrives with her fiance Bill (Dabney Coleman) and his son Doug McKeon in tow. It takes a while, but Jane Fonda and Coleman, about to go on a vacation of their own, persuade Henry Fonda and Hepburn to take care of McKeon. Henry Fonda and the kid dislike each other from Square One, and it looks as though this summer (which may very well be Henry Fonda's last) will be a depressing experience. Gradually, Henry Fonda and McKeon grow to love one another; their bond is strengthened during a near-fatal accident while fishing. It is through the warm relationship between Henry Fonda and the boy that the old man and his daughter Jane Fonda are at last able to display affection towards each other--the first time they've done so in years. Gorgeously photographed by Billy Williams, On Golden Pond is a wonderful valedictory for Henry Fonda, who died not long after the film's completion; Katharine Hepburn has less to do, but few can do so much with so little. Academy Awards were bestowed upon Henry Fonda, Hepburn, and screenwriter Ernest Thompson (who adapted the film from his stage play).
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Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

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Henry Fonda
as Norman Thayer Jr.
Katharine Hepburn
as Ethel Thayer
Jane Fonda
as Chelsea Thayer Wayne
Dabney Coleman
as Bill Ray
Doug McKeon
as Billy Ray
William Lanteau
as Charlie Martin
Chris Rydell
as Sumner Todd
Christopher Rydell
as Sumner Todd
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Critic Reviews for On Golden Pond

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (7)

There is a natural rhythm to the film that makes its own quiet, life-affirming statement.

Full Review… | February 6, 2013
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

When it sometimes seems the whole society has spiritually decamped for Tinseltown, the movie offers the hope that people can come home again-at least for a visit.

Full Review… | June 7, 2011
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | February 4, 2008
Top Critic

Two of Hollywood's best-loved veterans deserved a far better swan song than this sticky confection.

Full Review… | January 25, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Watching the movie, I felt I was witnessing something rare and valuable.

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | August 30, 2004
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for On Golden Pond


An aging couple cares for their estranged daughter's stepson. This is probably the nicest, sweetest, most wholesome film about death ever. The primary conflict, Norman's fear of death and his unfinished business, is treated with such a light-heartedness that the film takes on a dreamy pastoral quality. By itself, the film could be charming, able to deliver insight about going into the night with a smirk rather than a frown, but the film's conflict is complicated with the entrance of Norman's daughter. I understand that the conflict between Henry and Jane Fonda informs the film's contemporary interpretation, but as it plays today, there needs to be more setup than Chelsea's weeping into her mother's arms about Norman's placidity. The film's highlights are the performances. Even Jane Fonda is exceptional, and Katharine Hepburn plays the ideal, strong-willed grandmother, a woman all of us should want guiding our lives. Henry Fonda's Oscar win was deserved. Overall, it's hard to imagine so many ducks and landscape shots in a film about the inevitability of death, but at times, not often, On Golden Pond pulls it off.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

On Golden Pond may have a very straight forward story about a couple growing old together as they now live on "Golden Pond", a quite little place on the water where family and friends come to visit. As their daughter brings her new fiance to visit, they are blessed with a 13 year old grandson, who is a stubborn little kid at first sight, but as charming as anyone could possibly be on the inside. The performances are significantly brilliant and the actions of each character will have you in a universe of mixed emotions. For Norman Thayer, his life is not too far from finished and he will do anything with his arrogant comedic-like attitude to relive his childhood by becoming best friends with his grandson. This truly is a basic story, but the writing, the acting, the events, and the outcome is so touching and moving that I can call it a masterpiece. This is surely "cinema" in all it's glory.

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer


With the subject matter circulating around death, failed relationships, and troubled families it would seem that this would be a shouting match waiting to happen. Instead the plot plays coy, reeling you in with the calm wooded surroundings and the fraility of Ethel and Norman in their ripe old age. The underscored drama is just fodder for what is to happen: a coming of age bonding that supplements from Tuesday with Morrie to wow the audience with the family friendly fair all grown up. A wonderful film if ever I saw one.

Spencer S.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

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