A sort of Altman-meets-Polanski affair focusing on the relationship between a repressed single lady and the mischievious naive hippie boy she tries to simultaneously adopt/seduce. Ultimately, a parable about the consequences of dishonesty in romantic relationships (moral: it will destroy all parties involved), it is also an interesting 1969 period piece and a must for Altman-completists. You'll see some of Altman's early experiments with improvised and overlapping dialogue, and an indication of his interest in using a gynecologists' office as being a window into interaction between women, later to play out a full-length picture as "Dr. T and the Women."
****possible spoilers**** Sandy Dennis portrays Frances Austen, a woman who has been aged by her environment. As is usually the case with Dennis, her performance is outstanding. She completely inhabits the character. We learn that Frances lives in the former apartment of her mother, who resided there with Frances until her death, bemoaning the loss of her husband and highlighting the inadequacy of her daughter as company. Her small social circle consists of people at least twenty years older than her - inherited friends of her mother. Her maid is also a remnant of her mother's existence - she has stayed on to help her. She lives a solitary life with no discernible employment or real social life. Early in the film, while hosting a dinner party for her elderly friends she spies during a heavy downpour a young boy camped out on a bench. On a whim, she goes outside and invites him into her home to dry off. This invitation is eventually extended into an overnight as Frances finds herself drawn to him. Though it isn't initially revealed, we eventually discover that the boy is not a mute, as he pretends to be. His pretend muteness - his idea of a harmless prank - is unfortunate for both Frances and himself. His lack of communication enables Frances to chatter incessantly and to impose an identity on him which really only exists in her mind. We can tell that things aren't quite right with Frances and that she is more than just a lonely woman when she begins locking the boy in his room at night. He makes a window escape to return to the run-down abode of his hippie sister and her lover who's a war veteran and it is revealed that he was originally meeting them in the park that fateful day. The image of him as a motherless, innocent scamp alone in the world that Sandy and the audience shared up to that point is dashed for the audience. There is also a vaguely incestual relationship between brother and sister that doesn't really play into the movie much aside from a few scenes of them romping together unbeknowst to Sandy at her apartment. Sandy discovers the next morning that his bed is empty and she seems resigned to his departure, if somewhat saddened. He makes the decision to return - though its unclear why. We can assume that the warm bed and lush though somewhat stale accommodations Frances offers seem a more attractive prospect than the dilapidated barracks of his sister and her lover and the over-populated home of his family. Abandoning his former identity, he willingly accepts the identity that she's created - allowing her to dress him and feed him. Material gain clouds his judgment. The film loses some of its pacing here, as Altman's foreshadowing has made it pretty clear that none of this can end happily. Though the boy likes Frances, he remains in her company for the material comforts she offers. Frances, on the other hand, is becomingly increasingly obsessed with her imagined relationship with him and more and more dependent on having him in her life. After a seemingly obligatory 70's "let's get high" scene which is perpetrated knowingly by the boy upon Frances with some herbally enhanced brownies, her offbeat manner is revealed to be something deeper and darker and much more frightening. She randomly screams crazily then laughs hysterically and though the boy still doesn't know what's up - we clearly do. The next day she visits the gynecologist's - telling them that she is single but soon to be married. This trip seems to represent her last-ditch attempt to lead a "normal" life with the boy - the end result of these preparations - to be a traditional couple. This scene is enjoyable because it's indicative of the style which Altman would pursue and perfect later in his career. The acting feels improvised - a group of women discuss various birth controls and their experiences while Sandy wanders aimlessly, clearly uncomfortable hearing these women speak casually about sex, something she knows nothing about. The overlapping dialogue and long tracking shot is also nice. He sneaks out again that night which leads to one of the movie's most affecting scenes. Sandy comes into his room, opening her heart to him, sharing her fears of a lonely life and describing how her elderly friends repulse her, particularly the politely amorous doctor who has had just propositioned her albeit unsuccessfully moments before. She summons the courage to lay down on the bed beside the boy and reaches over to touch him. Instead of stroking his hair, the head falls to the side - revealing that the boy is gone and has constructed a dummy in his place. She screams - horror-stricken, desperate and enraged at the same time. That night when the boy sneaks back in, he notices his dummy has been taken apart and that his bed is properly made. Shrugging it off, he dozes off. Of course, all is not well and his final imprisonment begins. The movie draws to a close after Sandy has fatally stabbed a hooker she brought home for the boy. He stands frightened trying to hide in the shadows while she tracks him down effortlessly and strokes his face, in control and out of her mind. Though today we would be more likely to see an ending where in a crazed penultimate moment desperate Frances flings herself from the boy's escape window to her death, Altman was content to the leave the ending ambiguous. An honest relationship has resulted, but at the cost of Frances' sanity and the boy's freedom.