When Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn signed on to star in ON GOLDEN POND, Ernest Thompson’s minor Broadway play caught a couple of prize fish. The heartwarming comedy/drama racked up nearly $120 million in ticket sales and came in number two for the year, though a distant second behind RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
What for some is a sickly sweet film is for me a joy thanks to Hank and Kate’s Oscar-winning performances, the lush cinematography of the lake, and the simple, unaffected score by composer Dave Grusin.
The main title sequence sets the laidback tone for the entire film and Grusin scores it with the delicacy of chamber music. The sequence is infused with the amber glow of the setting sun. Loons and leaves float by on the placid water. A beautiful solo piano melody, backed by the sound of the loons, gives way to a flute and string bridge that is almost Elizabethan in its rhythm. Phrases from the opening credits are used throughout the score and cast an undeniable summer-like calm over the film.
With this score, Grusin established his trademark piano “flicker,” a set of three or four notes that is sounded at the high end of the keyboard along with a lower-pitched chord. Thankfully, the music never gets in the way or over-sentimentalizes an already sentimental film.