She: "God, I'm old."
He: "You're more beautiful than ever."
He: "It took me a long time to give them to you. Let me enjoy them."
Since the wrinkles belong to a silver-haired Myrna Loy and her admirer is a frail but touching Henry Fonda, there are pleasures to be taken from "Summer Solstice," an hour-long drama about a married couple in their sunset years, which airs tonight at 10 on Channel 7. Call it the pleasure of face-watching, a lesser but still rewarding division of people-watching.
Otherwise, this story of a flinty painter and his independent-minded wife, sifting through the residue of a half-century of married life, is a pretty sappy affair. By comparison, the movie "On Golden Pond," in which Fonda also celebrates the joys of togetherness with Katharine Hepburn, is positively Dostoevskian in its psychological complexities.
Much of the footage of Loy and Fonda shows them wandering along the sands of the Cape Cod National Seashore, somewhat uneasy of foot, perhaps, but looking nonetheless like America's ideal old folk. Their quietly flirtatious banter awakens dormant memories and the viewer is treated to a series of dramatic vignettes from their past, in which Loy is played by the appealing Lindsay Crouse, her hair framed in a tumble of curls, and Fonda by the slickly good-looking Stephen Collins, who could also be doubling for the Arrow shirt man. More nice faces to look at.
The flashbacks are elementary at best, however. There's the first meeting, when Collins strides over the dunes to discover Crouse, devoid of her bloomers and puffing on her first cigar (hence, a liberated lady). There's their marriage ceremony -- again by the seashore -- with the two vowing to take one another "as is," then promptly plunging into the surf under the eyes of a scandalized pastor. And, of course, the first dinner with her parents, a scene that dwells predictably on the awkward scraping of forks and knives.
On the darker side, we see how they lost one of their children to their beloved ocean. She has a moment of infidelity, just as he's becoming celebrated for his paintings. Later, he evens the score with a pliant gallery owner. After each episode, the film returns to present-day shots of Fonda and Loy, delivering such bromides as "We are old lovers and we made it despite our growing pains," or "You've always been my best girl. Both of us are too damn selfish to settle for second best."
The maudlin script by Bill Phillips is the result of a 1979 contest, launched by WCVB-TV in Boston, to uncover talented New England writers. For "Summer Solstice" to win, the other 600 submissions must have been truly rotten. Nonetheless, as if in the presence of pure poetry, WCVB-TV has filmed the script in gauzy, shimmering color and the sort of picture postcard locales that are also favored by makers of deodorant and cigarette ads. Slight as it is, the drama is underlined by an original score by John Nagy that reeks with nostalgia.
"We're just like everyone else," muses Loy at one point. "With one exception. We've always been willing to let one another grow." That's perfect nonsense. Neither Fonda nor Loy is like anyone else at all. They are handsome creatures, radiating independence and integrity all their own. In this play, the only lines worth heeding are the fine lines on the faces of its aged stars.