That Cold Day in the Park Reviews
Dennis enters the film in her usual insecure, whiny guise playing Francis, a lonely woman who has aged beyond her years. She has a nice, inherited apartment but mostly knows older people and has few friends. One rain-soaked day, she spots a handsome guy (Michael Burns) shivering on a park bench below her window. After he lingers there for hours, she assumes he is homeless and generously calls him inside for a bath and meal. He turns out to be mute, which only adds to his pitiable traits. She invites him to temporarily stay in her extra room.
Further details shouldn't be revealed, but this initially sweet friendship darkens into a psychological duel in which we wonder whom to side with: Francis, who exploits her new roommate for companionship, or the unnamed lad, who exploits Francis for food and lodging.
"That Cold Day in the Park" has some dull patches, but its climax is worth the wait. Dennis carries about 80% of the film and arguably deserved an Oscar nomination. As for the Altman factor, the primary glimpses of his burgeoning style are a small part for Michael Murphy (who appeared in several later Altman projects) and, more importantly, some incidental experimentation with overlapping dialogue. The most notable example occurs in a gynecologist's waiting room -- which itself might foreshadow 2000's "Dr. T and the Women."
Dennis' brilliant performance of an unforgettable character shines through Altman's directorial drawbacks, though the fact that one can envision "That Cold Day In The Park" as a potential masterwork in the hands of a more assured director does cast this film in a disappointing light. As it stands it is flawed, but unforgettable.
At first I thought this was being set up as an unconventional romance story, until it hurtles itself into unexpected directions. Sandy Dennis gives a magnificent performance as an aging spinster too old to be attractive, and yet too young to be condemned to a life revolving around lawn bowling with her now-deceased mother's elderly friends. To counteract the emptiness of her life and the lonliness that's eating her away, she invites a teenage boy sitting in the rain in the park outside her house. She dotes on him, providing him with a hot bath, food, a place to sleep, even a new pair of clothes... and he never says a word, instead of peering at her with unblinking eyes. The silence of her new friend causes her to use him as a sounding board- at first opening up about her isolation, and quickly escalating until she is venting repressed sexual frustrations. And by this time her behavoir has begun to border on the obsessive...
The last film Robert Altman made before hitting it big with [b]M*A*S*H[/b], and it lacks the mulitude of characters that would mark Altman's style from [b]M*A*S*H[/b] on. Dennis is forced to carry the entire film (as Michael Burns (the boy) essentially plays a cipher), and she does so magnificently. Even at this early date, Altman's direction is superbly restrained, and the screenplay by Gillian Freeman is tightly constructed.
But as Pauline Kael writes in her review of the film, [b]That Cold Day in the Park[/b] has a "cold brilliance," but it is a film you can hardly wait end. By the time it reaches its haunting conclusion, the clausterphobia has become nearly unbearable. This is sadistic cinema at its best.