Union City

Union City


Reviewed by: Caro Ness

Debbie Harry, in her first film appearance, co-stars as the wife of a mentally unstable accountant, Harlan (Dennis Lipscomb). It is March 1953 and Harlan is deeply unfulfilled and restless in his job and miserable and uneasy in his marriage. Harlan's wife Lillian (Harry) is just as unhappy and takes up with Larry Longacre (Everett McGill), the caretaker of their apartment block.

Totally unable to communicate with each other, Harlan and Lillian seem doomed to a barren and desolate relationship. Events suddenly take a dramatic turn when Harlan finds out that someone is stealing their milk. Lillian believes it is being drunk by one of their neighbour the Countess' (Irina Maleeva) numerous cats but Harlan is determined to trap the culprit and in doing so, he kills him and then spirals deeper into paranoia as he tries to conceal the murder.

The film was adapted from the 1937 short story by pulp writer Cornell Woolrich entitled The Corpse Next Door. Reichart achieves an all-pervading feeling of barely controlled lust and chronic sexual frustration. The sense of gloom and doom that the viewer feels inexorably building is illuminated by the couple's occasional clumsy attempts to rekindle what former passion they had.

Lipscomb gives an astute performance of a man slowly losing his mind and a brown-haired Harry (she bleaches her hair blonde just before the closing credits for those who cannot bear the thought of her being less than the Harry we know and love) sizzles with crackling sexual tension. It is a very assured debut.

This film has been cited often as a colourful and vibrant film noir. Certainly colour plays a big role in the film - virtually every interior set has one dominant primary colour - red, blue or green. I do think that the cinematography from Edward Lachman (The Virgin Suicides) is incredibly powerful and atmospheric, imbuing the picture as it does with a veneer of seedy respectability and pent-up sexual aggression. And Blondie's Chris Stein has written a subtle score that underpins the gloom.

However, for me the sense of mounting tension was just too slow and ponderous. In other words the strength of the film for me was its weakness. I suspect that because of this, you'll either love this film as the ultimate film noir or hate it as pretentious. For me the film promised to truly shock and yet I felt somehow cheated as it, like Harlan, unravelled. I am giving a three-star rating for the score, acting and cinematography, but no more than that because, by the end, I felt that the dialogue was often stilted and I wanted to shake the plot into something much more.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2006
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Union City packshot
Milk snatching leads to murder.
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Director: Marcus Reichert

Writer: Marcus Reichert from the book by Cornell Woolrich

Starring: Dennis Lipscomb, Deborah Harry, Irina Maleeva, Everett McGill, Sam McMurray, Pat Benetar, Tony Azito

Year: 1980

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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