On Golden Pond
Ernest Thompson adapted his own play about an elderly couple who are visited by their daughter, her fiancé, and his young son at their cabin by a lake.
Ethel Thayer (Katharine Hepburn) and Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) get out of their car by Golden Pond, and Ethel says the loons are welcoming them back. He does not hear them. He unlocks the door, and they go in. He says it is a mess, and she says they will get it shaped up and warmer quickly. He looks at his fishing gear and a framed clipping. He puts on his fishing hat and pushes over a screen door. He finds the phone under a sheet and says it works. He looks at an old photograph. He asks the operator to call him up, but he does not remember his number. He opens the door for Ethel who brings in wood. She says it is beautiful. She asks him to help her remove the dust covers. She says she met a nice couple in the woods. She says they are middle-aged like they are; but he says they are not middle-aged because they will not live to be 150. She is glad to find her childhood doll Elmer and says he was her first love. She objects to his thinking about death. She says he could take his dive and get it over with, but he says he does not want to leave her with Elmer.
Ethel and Norman are paddling a canoe on the pond, and she sees the loons. She hands him binoculars, and he sees them too. They see a speed-boat coming and tell them to buzz off.
Ethel and Norman are playing the board game Parcheesi.
Ethel and Norman take their power boat to a dock, and she goes in to buy food. He buys the gasoline and says he paid only 12 cents a gallon when he was the age of the kids there. They make fun of his age, and he gets angry. She comes back, and he says he will drive home.
He is reading classified ads with a magnifying glass, and she knocks. He lets her in, and she says she picked strawberries. He says he is looking for work. She tells him to pick them some more strawberries. They walk out, and he asks her where they are. He does not want to bend over or miss a career opportunity. He says he is living on borrowed time. He says she may have to massage his sore back. The postman Charlie Martin (William Lanteau) brings their mail, and she invites him in. He pulls off the screen door, and she says Norman is supposed to fix it.
Norman looks for wild strawberries in the woods. He looks at the trees and gets worried and tired. He sits down to rest.
Ethel and the postman see Norman come back, and she sees he did not get one berry. He says he must have eaten them. Norman asks Charlie to bring in the mail. Norman accuses him of breaking the screen-door, and Charlie says he could bring some hinges from town. Norman asks Charlie to open a package, and Ethel says it is his medicine. She says they got a letter from Chelsea, and she is coming for his birthday. She says she is bringing a friend, and then they are going to Europe. Norman says he does not want people coming to see him turning older. Charlie asks what happened to Chelsea’s husband, and Ethel says it didn’t work out. She says Chelsea is in love “with a vengeance” with a dentist. Norman welcomes people from all walks of life at his birthday. Norman asks Charlie why he did not marry Chelsea, and he says Norman wouldn’t let him. He didn’t want anyone else. Charlie asks how old he will be, and he says 103. Charlie says Miss Appley died at age 97. Norman tells Ethel that one of the lesbians expired. Ethel says she had a full life. Charlie thanks Ethel for the coffee and biscuits, and he says goodbye.
Outside Norman tells Ethel about a job. She asks if he came back so fast to read those ads. He is concerned and tells her that he came back fast because he got lost in the woods. He was scared and ran back to her pretty face. He sits down, and she comforts him and rubs his back. She says he was picking on Charlie. She says after lunch they will take a walk together. She tells him he is her knight in shining armor, and they will ride away on horses. He says he does not like horses. He says she is a pretty, old dame and puts his arm around her.
In the evening Norman puts on a bow tie. Outside Ethel is calling to the loons. From the balcony he tells her not to do that in front of Chelsea’s friends. She says he looks sexy in his tie. She says she will have to dress well. Inside he notices the “Welcome home Chelsea” display. He says he is getting older by the minute. She says they will get there. He says it is no wonder they have no grandchildren. They hear a car horn, and Ethel says she looks like an old character. She tells him to be nice to them. She tells him to move a vase and goes out.
Ethel greets Chelsea Thayer Wayne (Jane Fonda) who goes inside and kisses Norman. He calls her a fat girl, and Ethel says she looks good. She says they rented a car, and he asks what kind of car it is. Chelsea says she does not know, but it is ugly and breaks down a lot. Ethel asks where her friend is. Chelsea brings in young Billy Ray (Doug McKeon), and Norman says he is young to be a dentist. Chelsea says his father is outside. Billy tells Norman he heard he turned eighty today. Norman says he should see his father even though he is not still alive. Billy says he turned 13 two weeks ago. Ethel tells Chelsea she is so glad she is here. Chelsea says Norman seems so old, and she asks about his mind and his memory. Ethel says he is all right. Chelsea says he hasn’t changed and has someone to pick on. Bill Ray (Dabney Coleman) comes in and says he saw a bear. Billy comes down and says they have indoor plumbing and that Chelsea was fooling. Bill meets Norman who shows him his teeth. Bill says they are glad to be there. Norman asks if he visits his parents, and Bill says they both passed away. Norman says that gives him a good excuse. Ethel tries to restrain him, and Norman asks if he has the right to speak. Chelsea says she is going out to see the lake and invites the others. Bill and Norman decline to go, and the others go out.
Bill says he likes the house, and Norman says it is not for sale. Bill asks how it is to turn eighty and says he is 45. Bill asks if he can call him Norman who says he just did. Norman says his wife’s name Ethel sounds like a lisp. She wanted him to take her last name, but he does not remember what it was. Norman says he is reading Treasure Island; it will be new to him because his mind is going. He asks if Billy has read it, and Bill says he will get him to do so. Bill says he is feeling better about himself lately, and meeting Chelsea was a major thing. He says they have a positive relationship. Norman asks how much he charges for a filling, and Bill says $40. Bill says that he and Chelsea would like to sleep together if it is all right with him. He asks if he means all three. Bill says just two. Norman asks if he means him and Billy, but Bill says he means Chelsea. Norman asks if they are planning on doing anything unusual or offensive, and Bill says no. Norman says it is okay as long as they are quiet. Norman says he would be delighted to have him abuse his daughter there, and he asks if he would like to have the room where he first violated her mother or he mentions other rooms. Bill says he has a good time playing with people’s heads. Bill says he is good at recognizing crap when he hears it. He says they do not have to be friends, and he realizes it may not be an easy task. Bill says he will be as pleasant and receptive as he can be, but he will only take so much of it. He asks what is the bottom-line on the sex question. Norman says that was a good speech and says the bottom line is okay. Norman says that on sex he can ask him anything he wants to know. Bill confirms that he and Chelsea can sleep together, and Norman warns him not to let Ethel catch them.
Billy comes in and tells his dad that he paddled a canoe like the Indians did. Billy invites his father to go skinny dipping with Chelsea and Ethel, and they go outside. Bill tells his son to go back inside and talk to Mr. Thayer and learn something. Bill hears the women. Ethel and Chelsea are in the pond talking about skinny dipping.
Billy asks Norman if he is going skinny dipping, and she says no and asks if Billy is. He says he is careful who he flashes. Billy says he heard that Norman is a good fisherman. Norman asks Billy what he does for recreation, and he says they cruise chicks and try to pick them up; then they suck face or kiss. Norman asks if he ever read Treasure Island. He tells him to go upstairs and read it. Billy asks about the party, and Norman says he will call him when it starts.
Ethel in her robe with a towel on her head says hello to Bill. She tells him where Chelsea is swimming.
Ethel comes in, and Norman says he thought she would be nude. She says she did not want to overwhelm their guests. Norman says they want to sleep together. Ethel says that is okay and says they did. She asks if he has been picking on him, and Norman says Bill finds him fascinating. She says Chelsea wants to leave Billy there for a month. She says the kid would be miserable in Europe. He asks what they would do with the boy. Ethel asks if they can make Chelsea happy and say yes. She says Norman is the sweetest man, but she is the only one who knows it.
Later Ethel brings in the birthday cake as they sing “Happy Birthday.” Norman says he will not sing. He thought all day about what to say and says he is surprised four score years got here so fast. He thanks them for coming from Disneyland for this historic event. He blows out the candles with help from Billy.
The next day Chelsea is swimming in a bikini and tells Bill to come on. He says he is chicken. Charlie arrives in his boat, and Chelsea greets him warmly and introduces him to Bill. Charlie offers her a ride in his power boat, and he bring her to the dock where Bill is. Bill asks if delivering the mail is hard in the winter. They both agree they are lucky men. Bill has one foot on the boat which is moving from the dock, and he falls into the lake in his clothes.
Norman, Ethel, and Bill are playing Parcheesi while Billy roots for his dad. Norman says Chelsea does not like playing games, probably because she does not like losing. She says she panics when the competition gets stiff. She wonders why he likes playing games; he seems to enjoy beating people and wonders why.
Chelsea is sitting alone at the pond, and Ethel comes to her and puts her arm around her and asks if she is having fun. She asks what is wrong. Chelsea feels she has never grown up around Golden Pond. She says she acts like a big person in Los Angeles, but here she feels like a fat girl. Ethel says that is because her father said that. Chelsea says her father is a “God damn bastard.” Ethel tells her to watch her language, and Chelsea asks if she is going to wash her mouth out with soap. She says that was a bizarre custom. She has been answering to Norman her entire life even when she does not see him. Ethel says she had a miserable childhood because her father was overbearing, and her mother ignored her. Ethel says she has a big chip on her shoulder that it is very unattractive. She says when she comes home, all she can do is be disagreeable about the past. She asks what the point is. She says everyone has regrets about their past. She says she is a big girl, and asks if she is tired of it by now. She says life marches on and suggests that she get on with it. She walks away.
Bill puts their bags in the car, and Ethel says goodbye to Chelsea and says Billy will take good care of them. Norman tells her not to get involved with any foreigners. Billy tells them to behave themselves too. Bill tells Norman to work on his Parcheesi game and says they had a great time. They drive off, and they wave. Billy tells Ethel and Norman that he is not going to take any crap from them as he walks into the house.
Ethel says it is a beautiful day for going fishing, and Norman agrees. Billy says, “Bullshit.” Norman says he likes that word and agrees that it is a good word.
Inside Norman is dressed for fishing. Billy says he may not stick around there. He realizes that he was just dumped there and that most people don’t want him around. Norman says he is 67 years older and asks how he knows what he wants. He says they are going fishing, and they want him to go along. He tells Billy if he wants to go, to get his ass to the dock in two minutes. He and Ethel go out.
At the dock Billy arrives and says he would like to see what the bullshit is all about. Ethel says he looks handsome in the fishing vest. Billy asks how fast the boat goes, and Norman takes off. Billy says all right. Norman shows Billy how to put a worm on a hook. Billy catches a fish and is happy.
Billy goes swimming while Ethel and Norman are in the canoe. Norman tells him to do a back-flip dive and says it is easy. Billy challenges him to try it, and Ethel tells Norman to stay where he is. Billy dives, and Norman says that was not it. Ethel tells Norman not to kill him the first week.
Norman in the power boat takes Billy to a good fishing place and says this is it. He tells him about the trout Walter he is trying to catch and talks to the fish. He tells Billy to let out his line. He tells him to bring his line up off the bottom, and Billy says he does not have to yell at him. Norman says he is sorry, and Billy says it is okay. Norman asks if he is having fun, and Billy says yes. Billy does not agree that it is better than cruising chicks. Ethel arrives in a small motor-boat and says she brought them lunch. Norman says they don’t need it, and she tells him not to be an old poop. She says goodbye and goes away. They look in the basket and start eating sandwiches. Norman tells him to run with it, and he tells Billy to get the big net. He brings it close, and Billy gets it in the net. Norman says the large fish is a rainbow trout.
That night outside Norman says none of the fish they caught are Walter who is “humungous.” Billy asks him how he got Ethel. He says she was a substitute teacher, and he won her. Ethel comes out and says she won Norman in a contest; he was the booby prize. She says Billy does not have to do all his chores. Norman says what good is it to have a dwarf if he doesn’t do chores.
Inside Billy tells Norman he has the match backward, and Norman says he can do it and lights the fire in the fireplace. Outside on the porch Norman learns that Billy is reading A Tale of Two Cities. Ethel calls Norman, and they use water to put out the fire that spread beyond the fireplace. Norman says Billy made a hell of a mess, and Billy asks why he is yelling at him. Norman says he guesses it is not safe to have him around there. He asks Billy why he is staring at him and calls him a “son of a bitch” before he walks away. Ethel feels hurt. She goes to Billy outside and tells him not to let Norman upset him. She says he was not yelling at him; he was yelling at life. She says he is like an old lion who has to remind himself that he can still roar. She says sometimes you have to remember that a person is doing the best he can just like he is.
Ethel is sleeping in a chair outside, and Norman comes up behind her and wakes her. Billy calls to Norman and asks if he can take the boat for a spin. Norman says no; but Ethel persuades him to let him do it. Billy takes off in the boat, and Norman kisses Ethel passionately. She asks what he is doing.
Billy has fun speeding in the boat going in a circle.
Norman loads Billy up with fishing equipment, and Ethel says the loons have said it is going to rain before nightfall. Billy opens the door for her, and she is happy. Billy says that Norman and he fixed the screen door.
On a dark afternoon Norman has taken Billy to Purgatory Cove, and he has Billy get on the deck and tell him where the rocks are. Billy guides him to avoid the rocks by calling port or starboard. They miss several. The motor dies, and Norman starts it again. Norman asks if this is the hiding place of the crafty fish.
Ethel is worried and looks for them with binoculars.
Norman and Billy are fishing, and Norman says, “It is getting dark, Chelsea.” Billy asks who he is calling Chelsea. Billy says they had better catch Walter because he will not be there much longer. Norman says neither will he. Billy says quietly that he will miss him. Billy says he got him, and they pull up a dead loon that smells. Norman cuts the line and tells him to let it go. They watch it sink in the water. Billy asks Norman if he is afraid of dying. He replies what kind of a question that is. Norman wonders why they have to talk about everything all the time. He says they should go home. Billy asks if they can get out of there. Norman tells Billy to steer while he navigates. Norman gets on the deck in front and directs him. They avoid the rocks. Norman tells him to reverse full throttle; but Billy speeds up going forward. They hit a rock, and Norman falls in the water. Billy jumps in and rescues him, taking him to a rock. He tells Norman to hold on to the rock. Billy says he is sorry and almost sinks himself. Norman tells him to hold on to the rock.
Ethel takes the car and finds Charlie, telling him Norman and the kid should have been back hours ago. They get in his boat and look for them. She says he might have gone to Purgatory Cove, and Charlie is reluctant to go there but does so. She guides him from the deck. She shouts to Norman and uses a flashlight. She sees them by a rock. She jumps in and swims to the rock. Norman says she should not be out there at that time of night. She says he is a fool.
Norman is working on a jigsaw puzzle with Billy, and Ethel says she is off to the woods with a bucket to find mushrooms or flowers. As soon as she has gone out, Norman and Billy get their fishing gear and go out. In the yard Ethel asks the juvenile delinquents where they are going. She thought Norman was in too much pain to go out. He says he is doing it for Billy because they have been doing puzzles for a week. She makes him promise to stay in their cove. He says there are not many trout left there, but she says they have enough trout to last them six years. Billy says they have not caught Walter yet. Norman says they will stay in the damn cove. They go off, and she smiles.
Chelsea arrives in her car and finds her mother dancing and singing outside like an Indian. Chelsea joins in, and Ethel welcomes her. Ethel tells her that Norman is out there fishing with his best buddy. She says they both are fine. Chelsea sits down and looks at them fishing on the pond. She asks if they are getting along all right, and Ethel says Billy is the best thing that happened to him in a long time. Chelsea says she could have traded her for him. Ethel says she was a good daughter, but Chelsea asks why her father was never her friend. Ethel says of course he was her friend because he was her father. She asks Chelsea to think of something nice to say, and she says she married Bill in Brussels. Ethel asks if it counts in this country, and she congratulates her. She says Norman will be pleased. Chelsea wonders what he will say, wishing he would say he is proud of her; but she says he won’t because he is a selfish “son of a bitch.” Ethel slaps her and says he happens to be her husband. She cries as Chelsea runs off and dives in the pond.
Billy gets excited because he has a big fish on his line. He tells Norman to get the net, and Norman says it is Walter. He tells him to keep the line tight and reel him in. They get the gigantic fish in the net and say they caught Walter.
Ethel on shore tells Chelsea in the water that she brought her sweater and shoes. Chelsea says she is sorry, and Ethel says she is wrong about her dad. She knows he cares, but he does not like to tell anyone. She knows he would walk through fire for her, and she says he would for Chelsea too. If she does not understand that, she is not looking closely enough. Chelsea says she does not even know him. Ethel says he is eighty and has heart palpitations, and she asks when she is going to begin the friendship. Chelsea says she is afraid of him. Ethel says he is afraid of her too; so they should get along. She says he is coming, and she encourages Chelsea to talk to him.
The small boat comes in, and Billy gives her a hug. Chelsea says hello to Norman. Billy says they caught Walter, and she asks to see him. Norman says they let him go, and she says she heard that story before. Billy says Norman decided to let him keep on living. Billy goes off, and Chelsea tells Norman that he has a friend. She says she wants to talk to him. She would like to have a proper relationship with him. He says she does not have to worry about the will because he is leaving everything to her except what he takes with him. She says it seems like they are always mad at each other. He says he didn’t think they were mad but that they just didn’t like each other. She feels hurt and cries. She says she wants to be his friend. He asks if it means she will come around more often and that it would mean a lot to her mother. She says she will. She says she got married in Brussels, and he makes her very happy. He asks if he speaks English, and she says she married Bill. He says good for her. He says he got Billy doing a back flip like a pro. She says that is great. He asks if she wants him to show her, but she says not now. He remembers that she was not a good back-flipper. She says she was always too fat and asks if he remembers. He admits he remembers that now. He says it is easier for a boy. She begs his pardon. She asks if he wants to see her do a back flip. She says she will do one, and he says she does not have to. She says she wants to, and she swims to the dock. He advises her, and she says she is scared. He tells her not to do it; it is not important. She does a clumsy back dive, and they all applaud her. She says it was lousy, but she did it.
Later Chelsea and Billy are packing the car, and Chelsea tells her mother that she could persuade Norman to come to visit her. Ethel says she could if she could convince him that Los Angeles is part of the United States. Norman comes out and gives a fishing pole to Billy to improve his cruising. Ethel says he can’t take a fishing pole on the plane, but Chelsea says he can. He says he has something for Chelsea and puts a medal around her neck. He says it is the University of Pennsylvania diving finals 1921, second place. She says thanks, and now she can retire. He tells her to show it to her new husband so that he will give them a discount on dental work. Billy says he will be seeing them, and he shakes hands with Norman and hugs him while Chelsea hugs her mother. Then Billy hugs Ethel, and he gets in the car. Norman hugs Chelsea.
The furniture is covered with sheets, and Ethel asks Norman to help her carry the boxes. He say it is heavy. He feels pain, staggers, and drops the box, breaking the dishes. He is holding his heart, and she goes to get his medicine. She tells him to put it under his tongue. He asks what it is, and she says it is nitroglycerine. She prays God not to take him now. He says they should call a doctor. She gets the phone and tries to get the operator. She asks about his angina, the pain. She waits for the operator, and he says she is slow. She asks how he feels now. She tells him she does not want him to die now. She is going to get the phone book to call the hospital directly, but he asks her to come to him. He calls her name and says he is feeling all right now. He says his heart stopped hurting; maybe he will be all right. He apologizes about her mother’s china. She tells him not to strain himself anymore. She says she could see him dead in his blue suit. She says he has been talking about death since they met, but this is the first time she really felt it. He says they should say goodbye to the lake, and he gets up. She tells him to take it easy and says she is only good for one close call per day. He asks if she wants to dance or whether they should “suck face.” They hug, and he pats her back. They hear the loons, and he says they came around to say goodbye. He says it is just the two of them now. The babies grew up and moved to Los Angeles or somewhere.
This family drama portrays an elderly couple and their difficult relationship with their adult daughter. Her father is suffering from diminishing faculties. He speaks frankly and is crotchety while his daughter still is burdened by her unhappy relationship with him from childhood. Her mother helps to mediate their reconciliation, and his fishing with the boy does wonders for the happiness of both of them.