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That Cold Day in the Park (Blu-ray Review)

11 Mar, 2013 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Sandy Dennis, Michael Burns, Susanne Benton, John Garfield Jr.

Robert Altman's great fortune in being selected to direct 1970's MASH brings to mind Seth McFarlane’s crack during the infamous recent Oscarcast that the Oscar gig only came his way after (dumpy porn star) Ron Jeremy turned it down — which is about where Altman found himself in the pecking order of studio preferences when he got the nod to helm his career-making service comedy. MASH is usually regarded as the "first" Altman feature, but the immediately preceding Cold Day (June 1969 vs. January 1970) looks like a contender itself — or at least more so than warm-ups like The Delinquents, The James Dean Story or Countdown.

A young Laszlo Kovacs (same year as his work on Easy Rider) gave Cold Day a lot of that patented Uncle Bob widescreen haze — and it isn’t too much of a stretch to characterize the story’s going-bonkers protagonist (Sandy Dennis) as some kind of soul-mate with Susannah York’s character in Altman’s subsequent Images (photographed by Kovacs’ own Hungarian soul-mate Vilmos Zsigmond). Attractively shot here, the tough-to-cast Dennis (three years post-Virginia Woolf Oscar) plays a wealthy spinsterish type who takes in an unsheltered youth she spots on a park bench during a rainstorm (he’s played by future real-life college history prof Michael Burns). Her subsequent attraction to him is slightly mysterious because the kid has a lifelong prankish habit of remaining mute for long stretches. He also has a rather gamey relationship with a “built” sister who’s certainly less repressed than Dennis (she’s played by onetime Playboy grace-e Susanne Benton, who was later visually memorable as well in Mike Nichols’ film of Catch-22).

That Cold Day in the Park is fairly peg-able as an Altman picture for its look, its early appearance by director regular Michael Murphy and for its feminine concerns (see not only Images, 3 Women, Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and more but the film’s extended sequence at the gynecologist, long predating Dr. T and the Women). The result feels unfinished, but you can see why Cold Day has a cult to temper its critical brick-batting at the time — and, of all things, you could program it in an abduction-at-home retrospective with the likes of The Collector and Rob Reiner’s movie of Stephen King’s Misery. The print Olive has utilized here is very good and should permanently relegate the old pan-and-scan VHS to the place where all washed-out video atrocities go.

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