Old gold: a film buff's guide to On Golden Pond

On Golden Pond, the fourth film in your classic video collection, oozes prestige and class and quality. It's a movie which should come with the option to buy a timeshare on a New England cottage, or else with a big floppy ribbon tied around it. You can imagine the eyes of the Universal studio executives lighting up like Christmas trees when it came their way. Not just one Fonda, but two! AND Katharine Hepburn as well. It was a gift to the marketing people too. The late 1970s had seen the blockbuster - Star Wars, Superman, Close Encounters - shoot up, up and away, out of orbit. Which left older audiences, who were less enamoured of intergalactic dogfights, feeling a touch peaky.

The answer? A film which returned to traditional values, with actors rather than robots battling it out with emotions instead of heavy-duty weaponry. There was a chasm, and On Golden Pond came along to plug it. Needless to say, it was a howling success. People came to see the two Fondas reconstructing what was then largely believed to be their real- life relationship (the only dent that Fonda Senior's image had taken was in his role as a father). They came to cry and empathise and do any damned thing other than watch Imperial Mother-ships take over the universe. In other words, On Golden Pond was a recess. It was a breather. And it earned Henry Fonda his Oscar, a matter of weeks before he died. His daughter was there to collect it for him, and she rushed it back to his hospital bedside.

From his performance, you'd never have guessed that he was so close to death. He has the jauntiness of a teenage scamp, more so than the movie's actual teenage scamp (the brattish Doug McKeon); he's incorrigible. He and Hepburn are spending their 48th summer together; he's limbering up for his 80th birthday, revelling in the habits and customs that a long marriage brings, and he's not best pleased when his daughter (Fonda) arrives with the man in her life (Dabney Coleman) and his son from a

previous marriage.

It's a picture about reconciliation, old wounds, new futures, hope, love, the whole caboodle. The lush photography is a dream, and the emotional stand-offs have an electrifying friction. Certainly, it has its share of sentimentality from hell, but the performances are from heaven.

Henry Fonda He should have won the Best Actor Oscar for a million other things, but he got it for On Golden Pond. Not that his performance here is lacklustre - he has a degree of vigour remarkable for a man of his age (he was 75). But there's a lot of treasure in his career that was passed over, like The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and My Darling Clementine (1946), where he played Wyatt Earp; or 12 Angry Men (1957), in which he played the infectiously doubting Thomas. He had a bad time with lousy projects in the Seventies. Maybe that Oscar was simply for sticking with it.

Jane Fonda The movie gets a lot of mileage out of the head-to- head between the two Fondas, and you can see that Fonda Jr is grateful to be sinking her teeth into something which has so much real-life resonance. The 1970s had been hers for the taking - Klute (1971), Coming Home (1978), The China Syndrome (1979) - but since On Golden Pond, for which she was Oscar-nominated, she has done little, and she's done it badly: Agnes of God (1985), The Morning After (1986) and just appalling in the wretched Stanley and Iris (1989).

Katharine Hepburn She's generous enough to not mind playing second fiddle to the War of the Fondas, and her performance here has a lovely quiet dignity about it. She had been branded upon the heart and memory for her sterling, spirited work in Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Adam's Rib (1949) and The African Queen (1951). After On Golden Pond, she went into a semi-retirement. She broke it to appear in Love Affair (1994), Warren Beatty's dire remake of An Affair To Remember. Lord knows why.

Dabney Coleman He's the bumbling oaf with the big moustache and the eyes that veer from puppy-dog stupid to steely and scheming. America got friendly with him through television: he was a hit on the comedy series That Girl (1966-67) and most of all Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-78). His film roles have been erratic and limp. He was the best thing in 9 to 5 (1980), as the chauvinistic office tyrant, and he has brightened up such mediocre fare as Short Time (1990) and Michael Lehmann's vague sci-fi satire Meet the Applegates (1991).

Mark Rydell Rydell started as an actor, and made a considerable impression on Broadway and in the TV soap opera As the World Turns during the 1950s. He was in The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman's brilliant updating of Chandler, and by 1978, with just a few features under his belt, he was given the task of keeping Bette Midler in check on The Rose (1978). He almost did it. His work since On Golden Pond has been both sentimental (see his second film with Midler, For the Boys, in 1991) and clueless (the grim Sharon Stone/ Richard Gere thriller Intersection in 1994).

Billy Williams He got an Oscar nomination for his shimmering, autumnal work in On Golden Pond, and took the actual statuette home the following year for Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (left). This British director of photography made good on Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), co-shot The Exorcist (1973), and followed On Golden Pond with some sturdy but rather pedestrian pictures: does anybody really remember the patchy Cher thriller Suspect (1987)? Or Ken Russell's The Rainbow (1989)? Or Bette Midler in Stella (1990), for goodness' sake?

Dorothy Jeakins The work of this most renowned and formidable of Hollywood's costume designers is not at the forefront of On Golden Pond, but it's the class Jeakins brings to a picture which distinguishes it. She collaborated on some monsters: The Greatest Show On Earth (1952), The Ten Commandments (1956), South Pacific (1958), The Night of the Iguana (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965) (left). A highpoint was Young Frankenstein (1974), a wayward spoof elevated by its visuals. After On Golden Pond came some muted, subtle designs for John Huston's The Dead (1987).

Dave Grusin He began as music director on Andy Williams' TV show before directing his energies toward Hollywood: he won an Oscar for scoring Robert Redford's The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), and deserved to, because his music was the picture's sole redeeming feature. He scored Reds (1981), and his chirpy music for The Goonies (1984) nearly drove you out of your head. He got bigger and better, moving on to Tequila Sunrise (1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys (left) (1989), The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) and The Firm (1993).

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