For as long as I can remember, I’ve been deemed an old soul. This title has never offended me — in fact, I find it flattering. Growing up, I was taught to respect my elders and I found the task to be easy because I could relate closely to their interests. Above their interests, I love to hear stories of the good ol’ days and yesteryears. Experiences and adventures are lost when children and teenagers spend hours in front of a computer. In 60 years, no one will care that you had iOS7 on your iPhone or that Facebook started using advertisements. In 60 years, what stories will you tell?
This week, I thought I would take a look at films featuring “old folks.” Some of my favourite character actors from the Classical Hollywood era are older and wiser than their leading men and women and I love them for it! Grandpa in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall in Casablanca (1942) or Christmas in Connecticut (1945), and Percy Kilbride as Pa Kettle in the Ma and Pa Kettle films all rank near the top of my list. But my favourite senior citizens exist outside of Classical Hollywood, in fact, they’re Classical Hollywood all grown up, out, and into retirement homes.
When I think of Henry Fonda, I think of America rolled up into one actor. The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), 12 Angry Men (1957) … you name it, Fonda is likely doing something good for his country or fellow man. So, to see Fonda as the grumpy old Norman Thayer in On Golden Pond (1981) was a surprise. I watched this for the first time when I was 5 years old and I remember loving the chemistry between Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn (Ethel Thayer). “You old poop!” became a commonality in my vernacular and I began to understand family politics. Take a look at one of the greatest scenes between Hepburn and Fonda — it’s hard to believe this was their only film together.
The dissonance between Norman and Chelsea (Jane Fonda) is believable element of the film and heartbreaking. I thought I would add another video involving Jane Fonda’s emotionality towards the film after her father’s passing.
On Golden Pond is a beautiful film because it captures the negative aspects of growing old and the hardships of family life. Relationships are never what family members hope for and there will always be disconnect between younger and older generations. Films help us see a sense of reality, even if reality is skewed by Hollywood ideology. Just because Norman and Chelsea are able to resolve their problems, doesn’t mean everyone will.
The next film on my list is another contemporary classic involving senior citizens and features friendship, barbecue, and secret sauce. In the meantime, what are some of your favourite films featuring older characters in lead roles?