Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Gillian Freeman
Based on a Novel by: Peter Miles
Starring: Sandy Dennis, Michael Burns, Susanne Benton, David Garfield, Luana Anders, Edward Greenhalgh, Rae Brown
Country: USA, Canada
Running Time: 107 min (theatrical) 114 min (extended)
Year: 1969
BBFC Certificate: 15

That Cold Day in the Park, released in 1969 and directed by the great Robert Altman, is often considered the start of a loose trilogy of subtly gothic, female-centered films made by the director. The other two films are Images and 3 Women.

That Cold Day in the Park is also considered Altman’s first truly personal film. He’d been working in TV and on industrial films since the 50s and had also directed a few feature films, but these were largely just director-for-hire jobs or TV movies. That Cold Day in the Park, on the other hand, was an independent production that feels much more in line with the style he would adopt as his film career progressed, leading to him being considered one of the great American auteurs.

It wasn’t long until critics and audiences appreciated Altman though. He would follow up That Cold Day in the Park with M*A*S*H just one year later and that was a smash hit and much beloved by critics. It instantly put him on the map and kick-started his collection of classics made during the 70s.

Without the same box-office clout or critical acclaim, That Cold Day in the Park disappeared though and has largely been ignored when discussing the director’s finest work. Over time, however, as Altman’s cachet grew, people started to give it a second try and the film has its supporters now.

A label keen to champion the film is Arrow Video, who are releasing That Cold Day in the Park in a 2-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray. I hadn’t seen the film before, so requested a copy to review and my thoughts follow.

That Cold Day in the Park opens by introducing us to Frances Austen (Sandy Dennis), a wealthy woman residing in a luxurious Vancouver apartment. Though regularly hosting get-togethers with her late mother’s friends, Frances finds herself isolated and yearning for connection. One day, she spots a young, seemingly mute man (named ‘The Boy’ in the credits and played by Michael Burns) sitting alone in a park during a downpour. Driven either by pity or an underlying desire to fill the void in her life, she impulsively invites him into her apartment, offering him warmth, food and new clothes.

Frances’ act of kindness quickly spirals into an unhealthy obsession though. She believes the young man will become her permanent companion, even resorting to locking him in a room to prevent him from leaving. This claustrophobic situation is challenged when the man escapes and reveals his encounter with Frances to his sister (Susanne Benton) and her boyfriend (David Garfield, credited as John Garfield Jr.). Their involvement introduces a layer of chaos and raises questions about the young man’s true desires and circumstances, particularly as he continues to return to the apartment.

That Cold Day in the Park is an unusual film that starts out like an intimate drama then gets gradually darker as it moves on, culminating in quite a shocking final act. The inability to be able to pigeonhole the film, with it not clearly fitting into any genre, seems to be one of the reasons audiences and critics weren’t initially drawn to it. However, this is one of the reasons I liked it.

I found That Cold Day in the Park’s unusual nature fascinating, particularly its characters. Frances is most intriguing. She’s desperately lonely, imprisoned by her wealth and obsessive domesticity. She has a weird relationship with her mother’s friends, still inviting them over and staying connected to them, even though they’re considerably older than her. Frances is also contrasted with the boy’s sister, who is her polar opposite, living in a houseboat, freely engaging in and discussing sex, and this further enhances the idea of the film being about repression.

The central relationship is curious too. Frances locks the boy in his room at night but he continues to be drawn back to her and keeps up his mute charade (he talks with other characters, just not Frances). Also, her endless mothering of this non-communicative young man makes them a strange match.

There’s a weird relationship between the boy and his sister too. She teases and flirts with him, giving a strange sexual tension between the pair.

Unusual details like these help this largely subdued film remain deeply engrossing. There’s also a strange sequence where Frances goes to the gynecologist to get checked and possibly fitted with a diaphragm when she hasn’t established or even discussed a sexual relationship with the boy.

Without wanting to spoil it, the end of the film is an aspect that seems to put off some viewers. Whilst my initial feeling about the denouement was that it didn’t work, the more I’ve thought about the film, and it certainly stuck with me, the more I feel its twist was actually built up very effectively. It’s a shock, for sure, and the climax building to it is bizarre, but it is earned, if only after mulling it over for a while.

Though this is more of an intimate film focusing on two characters and not one of his large ensemble pieces, Altman does get a couple of brief moments to display his unique knack for weaving a complex, naturalistic web of dialogue in scenes featuring several characters. The aforementioned gynecologist scene is an impressive moment, in particular, and also shows off DOP László Kovács’ skill for shooting unusual, lengthy master shots.

The cast is excellent too, most notably Sandy Dennis. She does a lot with subtle facial expressions to portray the troubled mind beneath her placid surface nature. She helps the character remain sympathetic, even when she does some questionable things.

Johnny Mandel’s score is also betwitching. It has a haunting, melancholic beauty, much like Frances.

Overall, That Cold Day in the Park is a curious, poignant drama that later takes a dark and unexpected turn. That new path may switch off some but I didn’t feel it detracted from what is a beautifully made and performed film. Perhaps not Altman’s best but it certainly belongs in the upper tier of his impressive oeuvre.

That Cold Day in the Park is out on 8th April on Blu-Ray, released by Arrow Video. It is also now available to stream on ARROW. The film looks good, with natural, pleasing colours and clear details. I watched the extended version of the film and, in that, the added material looks quite rough – faded with some damage, though it’s watchable enough. If you’d find that distracting, you might want to stick with the theatrical version.


– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tom Ralston
– Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing by Brad Stevens, Anna Bogutskaya and James Flower, original press notes including an essay by Altman, and an excerpt from David Thompson’s Altman on Altman


– High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
– Original lossless mono audio
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
– New audio commentary by critic Samm Deighan
– Isolated music and effects track in lossless mono
– Crazy in the Rain: Altman’s Vancouver, a newly produced featurette revisiting the locations by Kier-La Janisse, author of House of Psychotic Women
– Archive interview with film critic and historian David Thompson, author of Altman on Altman
– Extended scenes from a pre-release print of the film, never seen on home video before
– Over ten minutes of behind-the-scenes footage featuring Altman and Dennis, from the archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
– Theatrical trailer
– Image gallery


– High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation of a newly extended 114-minute version of the film re-integrating previously deleted material from a surviving pre-release print
– Original lossless mono audio
– Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Eureka put out a Blu-ray of the film back in 2016 and that only had the interview with David Thompson, so it’s nice to see that Arrow have expanded on this, whilst keeping his illuminating piece, which provides some handy cover-all background and analysis.

The biggest selling point for those wondering whether or not to double dip is the inclusion of the extended version of the film. I watched that version and, whilst the quality of the re-instated shots isn’t great and they don’t add anything new to the story, I did feel the slower pace they offered worked with the tone of the film, particularly in the earlier sections. It adds to the lonely monotony of Frances’ life and the awkwardness of her interactions with the boy.

If you’re not interested in watching the full extended version of the film, the added sequences are available separately on the disc too.

Also adding great value to this new release is the commentary. In this, Samm Deighan talks about why she thinks the film is underrated among Altman’s filmography, as well as how she feels it puts a spin on the traditional idea of a ‘woman’s film’ and a piece of gothic fiction. She’s one of my favourite commentators (is that the right term?) and here, as usual, offers a deep, intelligent but accessible analysis of the film.

‘Crazy in the Rain: Altman’s Vancouver’ is an interesting piece too. In it, Kier-La Janisse looks at the film’s locations, as well as discussing That Cold Day in the Park’s place among the history of film production in Vancouver. She also provides some of her own thoughts on the film itself.

Finally, there’s some behind the scenes footage from the production. This is silent, unfortunately, but it’s still nice to be able to look back at the cast and crew at work.

I didn’t get a copy of the booklet to comment on that, unfortunately.

Overall, Arrow have done a stellar job of giving this lesser-known Altman film a new lease of life. I’d say it’s worth double dipping too if you’re a fan of the film and already have the Eureka disc.


Where to watch That Cold Day in the Park
That Cold Day in the Park - Arrow
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

About The Author

Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.