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USA 1969
Directed by
Robert Altman
113 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

That Cold Day In The Park

Sandy Dennis specialized in playing neurotic women and here in Robert Altman’s first feature she is in home territory as Frances Austen, a well-to-do spinster living in Vancouver in the apartment she used to share with her now-deceased mother who clearly dominated her life. Now left with her mother’s stuffy friends and the housekeepers, when she sees a young man apparently homeless on a bench in the park adjoining her apartment she invites him in. Altman doesn’t waste any time establishing Frances’ motivations and the story’s trajectory in what reminds one of, on the hand, Repulsion (1965) and on the other, Midnight Cowboy (released the same year) for its mixture of psycho-sexual anxiety and social observation.

Stylistically,the film is already characteristically Altman, for its camerawork, rather theatrical staging and pared down production values, not to mention the decidedly non-commercial ploy of having a character (the young man played Michael Burns who had been a child star on Wagon Train and who eventually quit acting to become a history professor) who for the most part doesn’t talk.  

Because of the lack of dialogue, Altman spends a lot of time charting Frances’s deterioration through physical activity and this tends to draw out proceedings with extended scenes that don’t have a lot to engage an audience.  Nevertheless, for film buffs it is of interest as typifying the style and concerns of its era. That Jack Nicholson wanted the part of the homeless youth (he was rejected by Altman as being too old) indicates how directly it plugged into the dystopic Zeitgeist of the late 1960s.




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