That Cold Day in the Park (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Films
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (3rd May 2024).
The Film

That Cold Day in the Park (Robert Altman, 1969)

Arrow Video have released to Blu-ray Robert Altman’s 1969 film That Cold Day in the Park.

Noticing a 19 year old young man (Michael Burns) sitting on a bench in a nearby park during a rainstorm, wealthy and repressed Frances Austen (Sandy Dennis) invites him into the apartment she has inherited from her parents. The young man appears to be mute, and listens to Frances as she tells him about her life. It soon becomes clear that Frances has quickly become accustomed to the presence of the young man, and is experiencing sexual desire towards him.

Sneaking out of Frances’ apartment, the young man returns to his hectic family home before seeking out his sister, Nina (Susanne Benton), and her draft dodger boyfriend, Nick (David Garfield). Soon it becomes clear that the young man is not mute: the appearance of this is simply an extension of a childhood game he would play with Nina, where the young man would pretend not to be able to speak for long periods of time.

The relationship between Frances and the young man is complicated by a mixture of desire and repression. Frances clumsily attempts to seduce the young man but is rebuffed, and one evening she ventures out to find a prostitute for the young man. It is an action which has devastating consequences.

That Cold Day in the Park was Robert Altman’s second theatrical feature; his first feature film project, Countdown (1967), had come to an unpleasant end when Altman was fired by the studio just prior to post-production. (The issue seems to have been both Altman’s use of overlapping dialogue, which studio executives found perplexing.)

Adapted from Richard Miles’ 1963 novel of the same title, That Cold Day in the Park was received poorly at the time of its initial release. Altman would go on to make M*A*S*H in the same year, and many of the techniques on display in That Cold Day in the Park – including the use of overlapping dialogue, which had confounded the producers of Countdown – would become a key part of the director’s filmmaking repertoire.

Miles’ source novel is compared by David Thompson in an interview on this disc to John Fowles’ The Collector; Thompson suggests that Miles’ novel is an inversion of the narrative of the Fowles book, with a male character held captive by a female character, and notes that Miles’ novel also shares The Collector’s use of chapters directed by alternating viewpoints (between its male and female characters).

Altman was supposedly influenced by Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, a film that casts its shadow over Altman’s triptych of female-focused narratives – this film, Images (we have reviewed Arrow’s Blu-ray release of that film here), and 3 Women (please see our review of Arrow’s Blu-ray release of that film here). Certainly, like Bergman’s picture, That Cold Day in the Park is very much a film about desire and its various iterations. Frances is profoundly repressed and at several points in the film, clearly experiences sexual longing for her lodger, which is confused by the maternalistic attitude she adopts towards him; meanwhile the young man seems blissfully disinterested in sex for the most part, though there are hints of his sister Nina’s incestuous lust for her brother. (In one scene, Nina sneaks into Frances’ apartment and makes a great performance of stripping naked for a bath in front of her brother, before dragging him into the water, and then half-jokes about seducing him.)

However, as a study in sexual repression and its psychological effects, That Cold Day in the Park also arguably has some lineage with Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), and bears some interesting similarities with some of the films that Spanish filmmaker Jose Ramon Larraz made in the UK – including, particularly, Symptoms (1974). Parallels may also be drawn with other films in which an often proletarian character “invades” a bourgeois setting, forcing their hosts to reconsider their relationship with the world; similar themes have appeared in films such as Pasolini’s Teorema (1968) and the televisual/film adaptations of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker (Clive Donner, 1963) and Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane (Douglas Hickox, 1970).

In fact, Altman’s film is very theatrical, the sense of claustrophobia within the narrative amplified by the use of a very limited number of locations, with a significant majority of the plot unfolding within Frances’ apartment. The story “opens up” later on, with a visit to a homeless shelter-cum-brothel, where Frances procures a sex worker for the young man, but returns to the confines of the apartment set for its devastating final sequence.

That Cold Day in the Park is a fascinating film. It’s a picture about the intersection of pity and desire, and the fetishization of the “Other.” Frances and the young man are from very different backgrounds, the socioeconomic gulf between them amplified by their different cultural experiences (in particular, their experience of the family) and their (perhaps ensuant) relationship with sex. Frances’ apartment, a place of quiet repression, is constantly contrasted with the spaces outside it: the young man’s chaotic family home; the dive in which Nina and her boyfriend engage in casual sex; the homeless shelter where Frances procures a sex worker for her lodger. In this world of opposites (class/privilege, male/female, privilege/poverty, speech/silence, hippies/squares), there seems almost no possibility of reconciliation or integration.


Running for 107:14 mins, That Cold Day in the Park fills approximately 31Gb of space on its dual-layered Blu-ray disc. The film is presented in the 1.78:1 ratio, which is commensurate with its original theatrical presentation. The 1080p presentation uses the AVC codec.

Arrow’s presentation of That Cold Day in the Park is very strong, and seems to be based on the same (interpositive?) source as Eureka’s previous UK Blu-ray release. The 35mm colour photography is captured very well in this high-def digital presentation. Detail is strong throughout, with some pleasing fine detail on display in close-up shots. The photography makes use of some deliberately “hazy” imagery (for example, shots framed through glass windows). Contrast levels are very pleasing, with a sense of depth to the shadows in some of the more dimly-lit scenes, and in the sequence in which Frances ventures out at night to find a sex worker for the young man. Midtones are richly defined, and there is a subtle tapering off into the toe of the exposure, whilst the highlights are also nicely balanced. Skintones are naturalistic. The film seems to have been shot on some fairly fast film stock/s, which results in a somewhat coarse grain structure, especially during low light scenes; this organic film grain is retained through a robust encode to disc.

Disc Two of the Limited Edition release (not provided to us for review) also contains a “newly extended 114 minute version of the film” which inserts footage from the pre-release version of the film; this footage is included on Disc One as an extra feature (see below).

NB. Some full-sized screengrabs are included at the bottom of this review. Please click to enlarge them.


Audio is presented via a LPCM 1.0 track. This is fine. Dialogue is audible – except, that is, for some of the overlapping dialogue. There’s a good sense of depth to the audio, and the range is fine for what it is. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are included, and these are easy to read and accurate in their transcription of the dialogue.


The disc includes the following contextual material:
- Audio commentary by Samm Deighan. Deighan discusses the reputation of That Cold Day in the Park through the lens of historical attitudes to films labelled as “women’s” pictures, considering the reductive nature of that label. She suggests that the conflict between expectations and desire is at the heart of the women’s picture. Deighan considers Altman’s approach to filmmaking, and his relationship with Hollywood. She argues that That Cold Day in the Park “feels like his first real feature film,” and explores how Altman’s technique and themes in this film were extended in M*A*S*H.

- Isolated Music & Effects Track.

- “Crazy in the Rain: Altman’s Vancouver” (16:57)
. Kier-La Janisse offers a new video essay about the Vancouver locations used in the film. The video essay mixes newly filmed footage of these locations with snippets from the film and archival still photographs. Janisse talks about the importance of the Vancouver setting, exploring its cultural weight – for example, the proximity of the young man’s house to the countercultural quarter, and the juxtaposition of the old and the new within the design of the city.

- Interview with David Thompson (28:17)
. The author of Altman on Altman reflects on That Cold Day in the Park’s place within the body of work of its director. Thompson begins by discussing the importance of M*A*S*H for Altman’s career, and the confession by that film’s producer that if he had seen That Cold Day in the Park before Altman was approached to direct M*A*S*H, another director may have been considered for the project. Thompson talks about the importance of female characters within Altman’s body of work, and highlights the impact of David Lean’s Brief Encounter on Altman’s cinema. Thompson also considered Altman’s quite extensive work in television, and examines the relationship between the film and its source novel, which he compares to John Fowles’ The Collector (both in terms of its theme and its structure, which alternates viewpoints from the two main characters). He also talks at length about the casting of Sandy Dennis in the main role (which Altman had also offered to Ingrid Bergman, who found the subject matter of the script distasteful).

- Excerpts from Pre-Release Version (15:46)
. Presented here are some scenes removed from the final edit of the picture, beginning with a scene showing Frances arriving back at her apartment building and preparing for the party (presumably intended to be placed immediately after the opening credits), more footage of the young man settling in to Frances’ apartment, and another scene showing Frances preparing breakfast for the young man.

- Behind the Scenes Footage (13:32)
. Recorded on 16mm monochrome film for a news report during the production of the film, this features footage from the making of the picture. The footage is predominantly silent, but there are some brief interviews with Sandy Dennis, Robert Altman, and producer Donald Factor.

- Trailer (3:05)

- Image Gallery (58 still images)


That Cold Day in the Park is a fascinating film, held together by a strong performance from Sandy Dennis. The influence of Bergman’s Persona seems evident here, as it does in Altman’s later 3 Women and Images. While not Altman’s first theatrical feature, this film feels like his theatrical “calling card” and contains a number of elements – both thematic and technical – which became key characteristics of his later work.

Arrow’s new Blu-ray release of the film appears to contain a presentation which is based on the same source as the film’s previous Blu-ray release from Eureka. The difference lies in the contextual material, with Arrow’s release adding some excellent new extra features – the most satisfying of which, arguably, is Kier-La Janisse’s video examination of the locations used in the film. (This featurette expands beyond this, however, to consider the cultural nuances of the spaces depicted in the film.)

Out now on Blu-ray and available on ARROW from 8th April.

Please click to enlarge the full-sized screengrabs below.



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