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A spinster goes to extraordinary lengths to assuage her loneliness in Robert Altman's 1969 drama. Wealthy Frances Austen (Sandy Dennis) conducts herself as if she were older than she actually is, but when she spies a blond youth (Michael Burns) sitting alone in a rain-swept Vancouver park, she takes him to her apartment.
Apparently mute, the boy accepts Frances's ministrations, content to have a bed of his own and to listen to her talk, even if he has to come and go through his window after she locks his bedroom door at night.
But 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 and how far Frances will go to keep it that way. This film began Altman's 1970s effort to experiment with established movie genres: in this case, the Gothic thriller.
Making the most of Frances's creepy apartment, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs zooms in to symbolic details of Frances's life and zooms out to reveal her unnerving isolation in her own space.
Altman maintains an awareness of the world outside Frances and the boy through mobile visuals and snippets of other conversations whenever either is in public, signaling the emphasis on the periphery that marked his future films, while underlining Frances's and the boy's estrangement from normal life.
Too odd, distant and, well, cold, That Cold Day in the Park flopped. Producer Ingo Preminger claimed that if he had seen That Cold Day in the Park, he never would have hired Altman to direct his next film: the 1970 smash hit MASH.