That Cold Day in the Park

Frances Austen’s parents left her a great deal when they died, the luxurious apartment overlooking Tatlow Park near the waterfront of Vancouver, sufficient money that she does not have to work, their maid, Mrs Parnell, still retained and visiting twice a week to cook and clean, their solicitous circle of friends to watch over her, all at least twice her age, and they left her loneliness, which might explain her fascination with the young man she saw that cold day in the park.

Staring at him from her upstairs windows, she made excuses so her visitors would leave without delay then went down to invite him in; she ran him a bath, fed him as his clothes dried, listened to music with him, made up a bed in the spare room so he would spend the night, an almost alien presence in her home, non-verbal but listening and understanding, making her laugh as he dances seductively to her record collection.

Originally released in 1969, only weeks before the Moon landing, while America was hip deep in Vietnam and Britain was in the planning stages of moving the currency to decimal, That Cold Day in the Park saw Canada as a safe bubble of cultural isolation, Frances (God Told Me To‘s Sandy Dennis) a child of high society, every action formal and dictated, with no guide for her friendship with “the boy” (Wagon Train’s Michael Burns), a relationship both exhilarating and terrifying as she balances desire, shame and confusion, exhibiting a foolish amount of trust.

Directed by Images‘ Robert Altman from a script by Gillian Freeman based on Richard Miles’ 1965 novel of the same name, this handsome young man ten years her junior is a mystery to Frances, and mysteries are appealing to those who are bored in life, seeking meaning, their relationship at first like two wounded children, but while she projects her genuine feelings onto him his persona is adopted, mirroring what she needs with his silence never contradicting her, but a damaged and fragile person is what Frances truly is.

Altman already using his later familiar technique of overlapping conversations as the camera moves across characters and spaces, Frances’ aunt complaining she has been served soup from a tin, the women gossiping in the doctor’s waiting room, Frances is untethered, drifting, seeking an anchor, ironic as the boy lives on a houseboat, a very different person than who she believes him to be though his relationship with his own family, particularly his sister Nina (Susanne Benton) and her draft dodging boyfriend are just as unconventional.

Frances’ attempt to hold him down the desperate act which breaks whatever enchantment she had hoped to weave, as the toys in the attic finally wind down there are aspects of Repulsion present in That Cold Day in the Park, released by Arrow in two versions as the original theatrical release and an extended version which reinstates around seven minutes of cut footage alongside a new commentary by Samm Deighan, behind the scenes material, a visit to the locations and an interview with Altman expert David Thompson.

That Cold Day in the Park is available now on Blu-ray from Arrow and is streaming on the Arrow platform



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