Lonely, well-to-do spinster Frances (Dennis) hasn't really had a man in her life, so when she spies a young boy (The Mad Room's Burns) alone in the park one day, she decides to take him home to her apartment filled with trappings of previous, older residents. The boy seems to be mute, but in fact he has a sister (A Boy and His Dog's Benton) whom he sneakily visits along with her boyfriend (Garfield). Frances tightens her grip around the deceitful newcomer, plying him with a prostitute (Dementia-13's Anders) and imprinting her own personal desires upon him.
A lot of critics and audiences were baffled by That Cold Day in the Park when it first opened; it's a psychological thriller, more or less, and skirts right up to the edge of gothic horror territory without ever quite tipping over. First and foremost, though, this is a Robert Altman film. Despite getting his start in features with The Delinquents back in '57, Altman had worked almost entirely in TV up to this point and had just come off of the fascinating NASA drama Countdown. However, seen today this is obviously the chilling first entry in what would become an ongoing look at the darker edges of the female psyche throughout the 1970s, followed by the eerie Images and climaxing with the magnificent 3 Women.
Of course, this film was also quickly eclipsed by Altman's unsurpassed hot streak at the dawn of the following decade with M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and The Long Goodbye, among others, though it managed to amass something of a cult following over the years. Dennis' performance in particular is a highlight, falling somewhere between her neurotic lesbian turn in the previous The Fox and the odd tragic romance of Sweet November. As with The Fox, the implementation of the then-new MPAA rating system also allowed for more frankness on the screen than what viewers were accustomed to; interestingly, it's Burns here who is sexualized far more than the actresses and would form the promotional focus of the poster and video art in many countries. This factor also didn't escape some of its fans, with provocateur Bruce La Bruce essentially remaking it (and also featuring clips from it) with a gay twist for his debut feature, No Skin Off My Ass.
As either an actors' showcase or a twisted dramatic thriller, That Cold Day in the Park still works like a charm and should have no trouble picking up more admirers now that it's back in circulation. Republic managed to keep this on VHS for a few years in the '80s, but after that the film basically dropped off the face of the earth until the 2013 revival from Olive Films on both Blu-Ray and DVD. Obviously the former is the way to go if you can, and the transfer handily beats previous versions (including the few ragged prints still left floating around) with a rich, filmic presentation featuring robust skin tones, vivid hues during the interior scenes, and a modest sheen of 35mm grain that adds to the late '60s ambience. The DTS-HD mono track sounds good considering the extremely limited nature of the soundtrack, which is mainly ambient noise and dialogue. It's really terrific to finally have a solid presentation of this film, which seemed in danger of falling through the cracks forever in the not-too-distant past.