- Movie Rating -

Union City (1982)

| January 29, 1982

I am a fan of film noir.  How many late nights have I spent pouring over old films from the 40s with beefy titles like Hangover Square, Scarlet Street, and I Wake Up Screaming?  They all have the same basic pattern.  Usually, some pretty dame claims to be in trouble and convinces some hapless dope to commit a murder or a robbery that eventually traps him or both and somebody ends up in the deep six.

I love these films, so when I heart about Mark Reichart’s new punk-rock take on the genre, I got kind of excited.  What could that possibly mean for the dark and dreary world of film noir to be mixed with the anarchist sensibilities of punk?  Well, not much I’m afraid.  Union City promises more than it can deliver.  It has the pieces in place but Reichart isn’t quite sure what do to with them.

His world is colorful and seems pressed from color patterns rather than real life.  His characters are grim, sad, angry, unremarkable and, like most characters in film noir, allow small crimes to escalate into murder.  The focus resides with a bored 50s housewife named Lillian (Debbie Harry) whose husband Harlan (Dennis Lipscomb) has become obsessed with the mysterious person who has been stealing the milk bottles from in front of their apartment every morning.  This has become such a singular focus for him that he is completely ignoring his wife.

Harlan’s fixation leads to a moment of violence in which he (SPOILER) eventually kills the thief. Problem.  How does he get out of his lease on the apartment before the body is discovered?  What comes out of this predicament is not exactly earth-shattering.  As Harlan and Lillian argue back and forth over what to do about the lease, and what is revealed are his guilty secrets and her secret sexual desires.  The problem is that none of this really matters. 

The movie starts with a cool, colorful look.  The pieces of a film noir are in place, but it is hard to really figure out what Reichart wanted to do with this movie.  What did he want to say about the genre?  Is this a comedy?  A drama?  A parody?  A satire?  The movie drones through its second half to the point that it was hard to care what happened to anyone.  Whatever point he was trying to make seems to have been more important to him than it is to us.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.