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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 chronically neurotic, often disturbed, 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 but launches immediately into the story’s trajectory in what reminds one of, on the one hand, Roman Polanski's explorations of psycho-sexual anxiety, Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary's Baby (1968), and, on the other, the social observations of Midnight Cowboy (1969).

Stylistically,the film is already characteristically Altman, for its manipulations of the physical space of the hermetically-sealed apartment where most of the action takes place (effective camerawork by Lazlo Kovacs although the DVD I watched it on was virtually leached of all colour), the rather theatrical staging and pared down production values, not to mention the decidedly non-commercial ploy of having a character (the young man who played Michael Burns had been a child star on the hit TV series Wagon Train and 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 tracking Frances’s deterioration through her behaviour and monologues 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 exemplifying the 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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