On Golden Pond (1981)

My Knight In Shining Armour

On Golden Pond deserves the title of “something you don’t see every day”.  Movies which deal with old age don’t usually become box office hits in a world obsessed with being young, yet On Golden Pond became the 2nd highest grossing film of 1981. Plus it stars two elderly actors who hadn’t appeared in a major box office picture in over a decade.

Despite their six decades in the industry, not only was it the first time Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn starred in a film together but they the first time they had even met each other. I never ceased to be amazed by the longevity of the careers of these two actors, especially Henry Fonda, whom I consider to have the most impress careers of any actor I’ve come across, scoring great films in every decade from the 30’s right up to the 80’s. On Golden Pond would be his last film and what a way to end a career. On Golden Pond reflects Fonda’s real-life relationship with his children. Reportedly the man was emotionally distant from his children, as are characters of Norman and his daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda) in On Golden Pond. It makes you wonder how much of the interactions between the Fondas in the film are genuine with their intentionally forced and un-naturalistic manner of speaking to each other. Yet Norman will accidentally utter Chelsea’s name at several points showing that deep down he really cares about her. Also, what’s up with the bikini shots Jane Fonda? Was she trying to promote her exercise videos?

Norman Thayer actually reminds me of my own grandfather in how he enjoys screwing with people’s minds, such as the scene in which his future son in law tries to ask him if he would have a problem with having sex with his wife in their house.  Norman Thayer seems like a stereotypical old man at first but we grow to empathize with his character. Just look at that battered old face of his which manages to say so much while his cranky, grump, smart-aleck old man shtick helps the ease the likeability of his character. Norman is a man nearing the end of his life played by a man who literally was nearing the end of his life. Compared to Henry Fonda’s appearance in the film Meteor which he stared in two years earlier, he aged quite a lot in that short period of time.

Katharine Hepburn is one badass old lady in On Golden Pond. Just look at the scene in which jumps of a boat and into a lake to save her husband and nephew and doing her own stunts too. She also reportedly told Jane Fonda on set that she hated her but watching their scenes together you’d never know it but she’s Kate, she can hate whoever she wants. Plus it’s nifty to hear old stars curse, as well as flipping the bird. Norman and Ethel Thayer represent the old couple I believe most people would strive to be, married for decades but still madly in love with each other as ever.

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Grace Quigley (1984)

Seymour! Mother!

Old Hollywood stars who were still working by the 1980’s where usually appearing in films dealing with old age (On Golden Pond, Tough Guys, The Whales of August). Grace Quigley was one such film and would be Katharine Hepburn’s last starring role in a theatrical film. The movie’s alternative title is ‘The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley’ although I’m assuming that title is less commonly used since it echoes a certain 20th-century atrocity.

Starring alongside Nick Nolte, Grace Quigley has a Harold and Maude element of a young man and an old woman becoming an unlikely team but the Hal Ashby comparison doesn’t end there as I’ve read several sources stating he was originally set to direct the project. The plot of the film involves retired widow Grace Quigley and hitman Seymour Flint getting together through a series of events (and eventfully he adorably starts calling her mom) and starting their own assisted suicide enterprise.  Yes, that’s the plot. Grace Quigley is one of my favourite dark comedies with much of the film’s humour coming from the characters talking so casually about killing themselves as if it’s something they do every day as well as the inclusion of possibly the happiest funeral ever.

The film has a pro-assisted suicide message with one scene involving Grace’s neighbour played by William Duell telling Seymour about dying with dignity and her unwillingness to go to a retirement home as well as “dying in front of a TV set”. In one of the more serious moments of the film, Grace takes Seymour to a retirement home to show him the horrors. I applaud the film for having the courage to make these unapologetic statements about one’s right to take their own life and society’s treatment of the elderly.  As Grace Quigley was a pet project for Katharine Hepburn she must have strongly believed in the issues raised in the film (and a sequel was even planned!).

I also recommend looking up Grace Quigley’s UK VHS cover art. The film I not actually that action-packed (although there is one brief car chase) but I still say it is the single greatest piece of home video artwork ever created.