Several days into their first trip of the Spring to their cozy, lakeside cabin, elderly husband and wife Norman and Ethel are joined by their grown daughter Chelsea, from whom Norman is estranged, her new dentist boyfriend Bill, and his mildly angsty teenage son, Billy. The Letterboxd plot description would have you think that what follows is a period of reconciliation between Norman and Chelsea, particularly since those characters are played by Henry and Jane Fonda, who famously had a father-daughter rift of their own.
But that’s not really what this is at all. In fact, Chelsea and her boyfriend bolt for Europe about as quickly as they arrive, leaving Norman and Ethel to take care of Billy for the month. Norman and Billy bond as they spend their days together fishing, while Norman also experiences the onset of Alzheimer’s.
It’s sappy and prettier than it is artful; footage of ducks on the sun-dappled surface of the lake isn’t much more than greeting card imagery, and the corny score that rarely lets up isn’t much better. Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn bring personality to their roles, but it isn’t enough to overcome the cliches by which their characters are each defined: he’s a cranky ‘ol geezer, she’s an outgoing free-spirit with the energy of a woman half her age. There isn’t much to their relationship as a couple, nor is there much of interest in Norman and Billy’s friendship. I did get some laughs from it, mainly from Norman’s sarcastic and self-deprecating wit. But it doesn’t have enough to say about entering your twilight years, and steps around the father-daughter dynamic that should have been its centerpiece.
On Golden Pond Trailer
On Golden Pond is currently streaming on Hoopla and Kanopy. You can also rent or purchase it on major VOD platforms.
Tim Blake Nelson’s face was made for a Western. Sure, the famed character actor doesn’t have the swaggering stature of Gary Cooper or John Wayne, nor the everyman star charisma of Henry Fonda or James Stewart. But, with his famous hangdog demeanor and Okie drawl, Nelson feels right at home in the plains of the Old West as one of the many characters that gives a movie color – like an Eli Wallach or Ward Bond.
With that said, it is especially wonderful to see Nelson take lead in the wonderful small western, Old Henry, directed by Potsy Ponciroli, sees Nelson as Henry McCarty, a farmer with a hidden past, who stumbles upon a man near death and a satchel full of money. From experience, McCarty knows this could only mean trouble, but due to a sense of righteousness, decides to nurse the man, Curry (Scott Haze), back to good health at his farm that he shares with his teenage son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). Troubles comes a brewing for the McCarty family as a group of bank robbers pretending to be lawmen led by the gleefully sadistic Ketchum (Stephen Dorff).
Ponciroli does not fill his movie with any pretense of importance. Old Henry is not a revisionist Western aiming to reflect on the American mythos nor does it have the grandiosity of the old master. The goal of this movie is to make an economical western akin to the pulp westerns of Joseph H. Lewis and Budd Boetticher of the 1950s. And that is achieved thanks to Ponciroli’s baroque dialogue, steady pace of action, and strong central performances from Nelson and Dorff.
Calling Old Henry, a pulp western is by no means an insult to it. This might be the most fun I have had in a theater all year. Ponciroli clearly has a lot of skills and knows how to make a limited budget go a long way. Like Lewis and Boetticher, he allows the expansive prairie and limited resources to speak to both the peace of isolation and the dangers of the unknown. He uses Nelson’s face to its full extent – Nelson looks like a man who has lived a life. And when the bursts of action do come, it is violent and uncompromising. Old Henry may become lost in the shuffle of releases for 2021, but it already has all the makings of a gem waiting to be discovered on whatever streaming site it is destined to end up on.
Old Henry Trailer
Old Henry is currently available to rent from select VOD platforms.
Sturges slows down the dialogue and ups the sensuality for a funny story of romance, revenge, and faked identity. Aboard an ocean liner on his voyage home from the Amazon, wealthy and guileless Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) winds up in the palm of the hand of Barbara Stanwyck’s seductive Jean Harrington, a swindler who unexpectedly falls for her target. But before Jean can confess to Charles the truth about her original intention to play him like a fiddle, he finds out on his own and blows her off, which makes her so mad that she later jumps at a second chance to put on a disguise and cheat him once and for all.
Fonda is quite good as the gullible dupe, and Stanwyck plays the femme fatale with abundant magnetism. In the first half, Sturges facilitates chemistry between them via extended closeups, bringing them inches away from each other’s lips when Charles, say, stumbles over a divan in Jean’s cabin, and she then lays beside him and caresses his ruffled hair. The humor only occasionally reaches hilarity, but there are some pretty funny side characters, such as Charles’ no-nonsense minder, who snoops and sees through Jean’s ruses, and some memorably amusing scenes, such as one involving a surprisingly pesky horse. An inspired bit of editing during a climactic train sequence is also a good laugh.
The Lady Eve Trailer
The Lady Eve is currently available to rent and purchase digitally.