Union City Review

Harlan (Dennis Lipscomb) is a man with much on his mind. His business, a small accountancy, isn't going anywhere, his wife is unhappy and every morning he wakes to find that someone has been drinking from the bottle of milk that he has delivered. Not even a drink in the local bar puts his mind at ease, each sip draws in his paranoia until he's not able to finish his beer. His wife Lillian (Deborah Harry) attempts to comfort him but every night, Harlan goes to bed fretting about the theft of his milk and thinking of ways to capture the thief.

Harlan's first attempt to catch the man stealing his milk is a failure, finding that the milk is gone and the thread that he'd tied between his hand and the milk has snapped. The next night, he's more successful, catching a homeless Vietnam vet (Sam McMurray) sipping from a bottle. But Harlan is wound so tight that he only way that he can react is to lash out with such fury that he appears to have killed the man. Hiding the body in the bed of an empty apartment downstairs, Harlan tries to get his life back to normal but finds himself haunted by his memory of the murder. Stranger things are to come when building caretaker Larry Longacre (Everett McGill) begins acting as though he knows something that Harlan does not, something that does Harlan's rampant paranoia no good...

One of the founding films of the neo-noir movement, Union City is probably remembered more for the starring role that it gave Deborah Harry, or Debbie Harry as she was better known at the time, during a brief sojourn from Blondie. Fans of that band will doubtless know the single Union City Blue released in the same year as that film. But anyone expecting a feature written as a starring vehicle for Debbie Harry á la Madonna's Desperately Seeking Susan will be disappointed. Harry is only blonde for a short time and only then at the film's end. There is no pop, only the hum of an industrial part of the city and instead of the gloss of Heart Of Glass, there are noir stylings that would later influence Blood Simple and Blue Velvet.

Union City is a very stylish film, far more so than is suggested by a film concerned with discovering who is stealing milk from outside the apartment of Harlan and Lillian. Or at least that's the impression that we tend to leave Union City with, giving the sometimes dreadful acting the benefit of the doubt by seeing it alongside some artful visuals. Irina Maleeva, who plays the Contessa, a strange old woman who lives downstairs from Harlan and Lillian, turns in a dreadful performance - she wouldn't have been out of place had she been a resident in the hotel Duane and Belial checked into in Basket Case - but so peculiar are the events around her that any doubts about her tend to become dissipate. Yes, she's strange but so too is much of the rest of the film.

Like Blue Velvet, one leaves torn between feeling Union City is a grand neo-noir joke or a serious but strange little film. Or, indeed, none of it might matter at all, more that Union City exists as a canvas on which Marcus Reichert has drawn an image of modern noir in the last year of the seventies. Union City seems most complete in its final moments, when Deborah Harry dyes her hair blonde in a perfect reflection of Veronica Lake, what Larry Longacre knew (and didn't know) is revealed and the claustrophobia of the city finally causes Harlan to break. Madness, love and murder...very noir indeed but also, with the presence of Harry and Pat Benatar, the feeling of early music videos, which sought so hard to tell a story in a small amount of time. And that may be Union City's greatest legacy.


The shortcomings of the production as regards its budget is all too obvious when watching Union City. The actual DVD transfer looks fine and the print sourced by Tartan is in good condition but the picture is soft and lacks detail outside of the centre of the screen. There is also the temptation to say that it looks washed out but with the bright colours shown in the apartment building, that's clearly not the case, more that the original film looks rather plain for much of its time. The same can be said for the DD2.0 soundtrack, which has a little hiss in the background and otherwise tends towards sounding very ordinary for its running length. There are no obvious faults - no moments in which the dialogue drops out completely, for example, or is inaudible - but it could be much better. However, once again, the fault would seem to lie with the original print and not with Tartan. Finally, there are no subtitles.


There isn't very much here. The promotional pieces forwarded by Tartan prior to the release of Union City, which includes this news piece, mentions an Introduction and Notes by the director but neither were included with this check disc. What has been included on the disc are Deborah Harry's Screen Test (3m43s), Deleted Footage (2m04s, no sound), the Original Theatrical Trailer (1m45s) and a Tartan Trailer Reel, which includes Sky Blue (1m55s) and Secret Lives Of Dentists (2m17s).

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