This early Robert Altman film is a small (if deeply unsettling) little jewel, distinguished by a superb performance by Sandy Dennis. As a sheltered, naïve, but creepily neurotic woman without a clue as to how the world of human relationships actually functions, she quietly dominates the screen. And she's well-matched by the young Michael Burns, far more cunning & manipulative than his initially mute charade suggests -- but he's in over his head, horribly so, as he discovers much too late in the game.
And what is the game?
Sandy Dennis' Frances is a spinster, emotionally swaddled & smothered, yearning for human love & human contact, but utterly lost in the real world outside her apartment. When she encounters Michael Burns (simply The Boy) in the park, she takes him home, which is fine with him. It's only as the story continues that he & we begin to understand just how troubled & dangerous Frances really is ...
In some ways like "The Collector," only with the roles reversed, this film differs in that its leads aren't really that sympathetic. Altman tends to shoot them through windows & panes of glass, distancing them, creating a detached & voyeuristic atmosphere. Add to that the washed-out lighting that exposes every bit of grime & decay, and the result is both clinically & uncomfortably intimate.
The fact that it was made when movies were pushing against the last vestiges of censorship gives it a peculiar intensity. Nowadays everything can be said & shown; back then, it was genuinely daring to even try. So even though what we see is comparatively tame beside the explicitness of modern films, it possesses a genuine & powerful perversity that most modern films can't approach.
It's not for casual viewing, and not something you'd want to watch too often. But it'll stay with you, whether you want it to or not. I'm delighted to see it's finally available on DVD, as it's the first of Robert Altman's many films to fully bear his imprint, and deserves greater exposure. Darkly recommended!