26 October 2002 | bmacv
Rigidly stylized Union City proves more influential than popular
Union City was to be the vehicle (many of her fans thought) that would launch Deborah Harry, lead singer of Blondie, into screen superstardom. It didn't happen, though Harry went on to appear in numerous movies. But in Union City, she's kept in drab, dark locks until the very end, and gives a stylized, one-note performance, as though she were in a skit. No doubt that was at the prompting of writer/director Marcus Reichert, who made a rigidly stylized movie that looks almost cartoonish though today, `like a graphic novel' might be the better phrase.
And that isn't exactly a put-down. The achievement of Union City lies in sustaining interest despite the fact that very little, really, happens. It takes place in 1953, in a tired old apartment house across the Hudson from Manhattan (with a couple of excursions to a corner saloon). Accountant Dennis Lipscomb, a master of the paranoid personality style, is obsessed with a milk thief who drinks from the bottle delivered every morning. His feckless wife (Harry) doesn't pay much attention to his irrational rages, and he in turn pays little attention to her, at least where it counts she's carrying on with the building superintendent (Everett McGill). When Lipscomb finally catches the thief, he accidentally kills him and stows the body in a Murphy bed in a vacant apartment.
Most of Union City is a mood piece, with Lipscomb hitting the bottle to drown his guilt and Harry sticking daffodils into her underthings to vent her sexual frustration. The moods are expressed in the movie's distinctive look, with garishly saturated hues glowing through the heavy gloom and some of that look is echoed in later movies like the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple and The Man Who Wasn't There, in David Lynch's Blue Velvet, even in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. But Reichert doesn't just surrender to the atmospherics; at the end, when Harry unveils her bottle-blonde tresses, like Tippi Hedren in Marnie, he delivers a twist (courtesy of Cornell Woolrich, who wrote the original story) that daringly relies on the viewer to fill in.
For some reason, the print of this movie released in Canada runs some three minutes longer than the American version. Those three minutes contain a scene in which Harry like Arlene Dahl in Slightly Scarlet, like Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8 scrawls on a mirror with lipstick. (Maybe keeping that scene intact would have given Harry the push to stardom she craved.) Union City can be counted a success (though not a popular one), paving the way for a second-phase cycle sometimes called neo-noir.