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That Cold Day in the Park(1969)
A rich but lonely woman, Frances Austen, one day invites a boy from a nearby park to her apartment and offers to let him live there.
For more about That Cold Day in the Park and the That Cold Day in the Park Blu-ray release, see That Cold Day in the Park Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 15, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Sandy Dennis, Michael Burns, Susanne Benton, David Garfield, Luana Anders
Director: Robert Altman
» See full cast & crew
That Cold Day in the Park Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 15, 2013
If there were an illustrated dictionary that only contained photographs of people in the film industry to accompany various words, it's probably a tossup as to whether a picture of Robert Altman or Sandy Dennis would be featured next to quirky. Dennis was more or less typecast as a neurotic woman-child after her Oscar winning turn in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Her performances were often tic filled, stuttering, quasi-manic interpretations that were undeniably visceral but were just as often slightly annoying (at times intentionally so). Altman of course made a career out of being a generally avuncular provocateur, subtly reinventing any number of genres through the years. The film that first brought him to overwhelming public consciousness, M*A*S*H, was a rather piquant anti-war film disguised as a buddy comedy. Both McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson rather radically reimagined the western. The Long Goodbye was an homage to noir and pulpy crime fiction that was misunderstood (as so many of Altman's films initially were) at the time of its release, but which has since come to be recognized as a wholly original vision, one that in its own way presaged such later acclaimed films as L.A. Confidential. Images and 3 Sisters saw Altman working in a sort of proto-Bergmanesque vocabulary, delving into the interior lives of various characters without exploiting a traditional narrative structure. Nashville and Popeye both reassembled the film musical into a wholly new formulation (not necessarily for the better in the case of Popeye). Even Altman's take on lesser forms like ensemble comedies (films like HealtH and A Wedding) are imbued with Altman's own peculiar sense of human behavior and some at times subtle jabs at popular culture (the running gag of Dick Cavett morosely watching The Tonight Show in HealtH is a perfect example). Some of Altman's later work is among his most interesting in terms of blending genres. The Player and Gosford Park both twist a traditional murder mystery scenario into pungent satires of those in power, whether that be the landed gentry in England or the decidedly more mundane fame brokers in Hollywood. But of all the hoary genres that Altman visited and stamped with his unique imprimatur, one would seem to be missing: the horror film (we'll set jokes about Popeye or even Brewster McCloud aside for the moment). And yet, there is an Altman horror film, or at least a film that is Altman's take on the horror genre, the little seen (or remembered) 1969 opus That Cold Day in the Park, featuring a (yep, you guessed it) tic filled, stuttering and quasi-manic lead performance by Sandy Dennis.
That Cold Day in the Park is for all accounts and purposes what playwrights typically call a "two hander", that is, a two character outing. There are a few supporting players dangling around the edges of this strange little film, but the focus is squarely on affluent Vancouver, B.C. resident Frances Austin (Sandy Dennis) and a supposedly homeless (and nameless) boy (Michael Burns) whom Austin spies sitting in the rain across from her palatial apartment and whom she deigns to "rescue" from the elements. What actually ends up happening is a kind of smarmy depiction of obsession and subterfuge, two interlinked follies which ultimately lead to tragedy.
A lot of Altman's films are patently odd, which is of course part of his charm and allure, but That Cold Day in the Park takes the cake on a number of levels, even within the overall weirdness of Altman's oeuvre. Frances is a neurotic mess, a bit more emotionally tamped down than some other characters Dennis played but still in the same generally slightly bonkers mold that the actress was so skilled in depicting. But the character of Frances has nothing on the so-called "boy" (actually a young man). Is he a deaf mute? Is he just playing stupid for the sake of taking advantage of Frances' increasingly smothering attentions? While technically this may indeed be a "two hander", the fact that the "boy" spends most of the film in silent, wide-eyed cipher-esque responses to Frances makes this almost a monologue, solo performance by Dennis.
The film is rather slow and only fairly lethargically gets to its more violent, troubling elements when Frances decides to "keep" the boy in her apartment, a la the 1965 William Wyler horror opus, The Collector. The boy actually has a means of egress (initially unknown to Frances), but he keeps returning to the fold (as it were) since it's so relatively comfy. He's also keeping a few secrets of his own, which Altman reveals fairly early in the game, perhaps depriving the film of at least a little of its shock value. The Cold Day in the Park descends from "mere" smarminess to near Grand Guignol territory once Frances becomes completely unhinged and the depths of her obsession with the boy become fully realized.
That Cold Day in the Park shows Altman at a fairly early, nascent stage of his film career, and as such it's almost like a chrysalis, a half-formed cocoon which wouldn't ultimately start to fully blossom until 1970's M*A*S*H. There are still quite a few Altman trademarks on display here, though, including very naturalistic dialogue (which, a la Howard Hawks, overlaps to the point where you can't always catch everything that's said), an emphasis on fetishistic little character bits (what's up with Frances' obsession with feet?) and, from a technical perspective, a perhaps overuse of zoom lenses (which were admittedly all the rage during this era of film). As a whole, That Cold Day in the Park is probably a bit too odd to really gel convincingly as either a character study or a horror film, but it's still an unusually captivating experience, one that is indeedquirky.
That Cold Day in the Park Blu-ray, Video Quality
That Cold Day in the Park is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with a n AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. Altman worked with legendary cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs on this piece, and Kovacs' intentionally diffuse style may be mistaken for softness, which it technically isn't. Kovacs also tends to shoot Dennis in soft focus quite a bit of the time, something which also adds to the gauzy texture of the film. The transfer is generally quite good (I'd say better than the screenshots may tend to indicate), though there are some issues. The opening sequence, which is awash in opticals due to the credits, looks pretty bad, with some very noticeable bleed through in the center of the frame. Things improve markedly once the main bulk of the film begins. Colors seem just slightly faded at times, though overall they're decently saturated and relatively accurate looking (some of the flesh tones once again verge on the pink side of things). Fine detail is acceptable, but is hampered slightly by the filming style. The naturalistic lighting also tends to deprive the film of some shadow detail. Grain is quite noticeable and in fact is pretty overwhelming in the darkest scenes.
That Cold Day in the Park Blu-ray, Audio Quality
That Cold Day in the Park features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that performs decently enough but which, like the image quality, has some issues. Audiophiles will hear quite noticeable (and kind of sad) distortion in Johnny Mandel's opening theme music, though that problem tends to dissipate after the first sequence. There are occasional pops and cracks to be heard throughout this presentation, though none is overly distracting. Generally speaking, dialogue and score are well presented with good fidelity. There's really no dynamic range to speak of in this film.
That Cold Day in the Park Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There are no supplements included on this Blu-ray disc.
That Cold Day in the Park Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Robert Altman completists will no doubt want to check out That Cold Day in the Park, for it's probably the rarest of Altman's major feature films, one that only very rarely gets broadcast and which to my knowledge only had a domestic VHS release before Olive's new simultaneous DVD and Blu-ray offerings. That said, this is not a fully formed Altman film and has some problems both in its storytelling and its overall tone. Dennis is her usual bizarrely compelling self, and Michael Burns is charismatic if just plain strange as the boy. Probably "enjoyed" (if that's even the right word) more as an intellectual exercise than anything else, That Cold Day in the Park never quite gels, but it's uniquely fascinating nonetheless. While this Blu-ray has some minor image and audio issues, it still comes Recommended.
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