That Cold Day in the Park (1969): Altman’s Disappointing Psychodrama Starring Sandy Dennis

Robert Altman’s That Cold Day in the Park is meant to be a suspenseful thriller, but it’s actually a meandering and improbable psychodrama that’s extremely narrowly focused.

Sandy Dennis, then very popular after winning an Oscar for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? plays a wealthy solitary woman named Frances Austen (Sandy Dennis).

One day, when she spots a young handsome guy (Michael Burns) sitting alone in a rain-swept Vancouver park, she invites him to her place.

The speechless boy accepts Frances’s offer, even if it means that he has to listen to her endless chats.  Strange and insecure, Frances locks his bedroom at night and the poor lad has to use the window to escape her presence from time to time.

When he leaves his bed empty on the night that Frances attempts to seduce him, the boy soon learns who is in control of their relationship.

To capture the dark and creepy tone of the apartment, while contrasting it with the outside world, the distinguished cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs uses all kinds of visual and sound techniques—dooming, long shots, overlapping dialogue—that Altman would continue to perfect and to put to better use in his future work.

The two main characters are outsiders, alienated from themselves and estranged from any semblance of normal ordinary life.  End result is a film that’s odd, distant, and uninvolving on any level.

It would be Altman’s next film, M.A.S.H., the 1970 critical and commercial hit, which would put him on the map as a major player.