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  Union City A Work Of Body
Year: 1980
Director: Marcus Reichert
Stars: Deborah Harry, Dennis Lipscomb, Everett McGill, Sam McMurray, Irina Maleeva, Pat Benatar, Tony Azito, Taylor Mead, Cynthia Crisp, Terry Walsh, Charles Rydell, Terina Lewis, Wolfgang Zilzer, Arthur McFarland, CCH Pounder, Marcus Reichert
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Union City, the year 1953, the residents of this apartment block go about their business without much prospect of a brighter life, as their existence is grey and drab. One of the white-collar workers staying there is Harlan (Dennis Lipscomb) who has a small home on one of the upper floors, but his wife Lillian (Deborah Harry) finds herself bored by her days which basically consist of waiting for her husband to return. Not helping is that Harlan is obsessed with a crime taking place right outside their door: someone has been stealing their milk from the bottles left by the milkman, and this is driving him to distraction. Therefore he means to catch the culprit in the act if it's the last thing he does...

It might be the last thing the culprit does, anyway, in this ultra-low budget crime drama that happened to have a stroke of good fortune in its casting, as Debbie Harry was the lead, and just as they were making this film on slender means, she became a big star in the United States. She was already a star in Europe thanks to Britain catching onto her quality earlier on, which propelled her band Blondie to the top of the charts, but she was not a well-known actress, having appeared in equally small time productions that barely got a release outside of a few arthouse theatres in the main metropolises around America, and further afield to a far lesser extent. Not that this changed much.

Union City was by no means a runaway success, and its director Marcus Reichert returned to his artworks soon after having been dissatisfied with the film industry, concentrating on his acclaimed religious pieces, which leaves this little item as an anomaly of sorts. It was not a project that proved a springboard to bigger and better things, as those who were making something of themselves were already on their way to that anyway, not just the leading lady but also Pat Benatar who would become a major singing star of the eighties in much the same fashion - though not in Britain, for some reason. Here she appeared near the end of the story for a fairly brief but eye (and ear)-catching performance.

Everett McGill was probably the other famous face here, thanks to his work with David Lynch, most notably as Big Ed in Twin Peaks, which in a curious way owed a debt to Union City, mostly in the way it approached its tone and the pulp noir material in a manner that seems arch and ironic, but may be actually perfectly serious, that tension in the audience not being sure how sincere the whole production is, a vital part of Lynch's particular spell. Not that Reichert was quite as accomplished, for a start he was not able to overcome what was in essence a no wave movie, part of the punky movement's bleak outlook on life as depicted in the art of a usually urban, depressed environment, though for the film's fans that was a broad element of its appeal, no matter that it harkened back to an earlier era.

That era ostensibly being the stagnant nineteen-fifties, which the late seventies were alluded to in comparison here, though the source material was from Cornell Woolrich, a master of the pithy crime story, here writing in the depression of the thirties. Seems like every decade has its disaffected, and this summed up three of them with economy and to the point plotting the author was able to achieve and the director was able to translate, but enough time had passed from then to this for the twist ending that was set up in the source to be the mainstay of many a twist in the tale yarn, so much so that you may be ahead of where the film was aiming for. There was surprisingly little fawning over Debbie Harry, she got a few lingering camera looks but was purposefully dressed down for most of this, not even blonde until the last act, which left the murder plot to carry the interest, as if Reichert was unaware of the celebrity power of his lead, or at least unwilling to acknowledge it. The result was a bitter little thriller which didn't make the most of its resources, but held the attention nonetheless. Music by Blondie's Chris Stein (but not the song Union City Blue, oddly).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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