Paul Schrader had established his reputation as a screenwriter (The Yakuza and Taxi Driver, among others) before embarking on his directorial debut. Blue Collar is the story of three working-class guys at the Checker auto... more » plant who run their local union office. Richard Pryor delivers a funny, passionate, seething performance in one of his rare dramatic roles as a rabble-rousing union man. Trapped by family worries and crippling back taxes, he dreams up the robbery after scoping out the joint and enlists his coworker and buddies, family man Harvey Keitel and high-living bachelor Yaphet Kotto, who are in similar financial straits. This is a strictly amateur-hour heist, and their successful getaway is the last bit of good luck in store for the trio. The robbery turns up no cash, only incriminating files, and the inept thieves are soon blackmailing the powerful union, which fights back with force, seduction, and murder. Schrader's first film has little of the polish or style he developed by American Gigolo, but his portrait of lower middle class families in 1970s Detroit, interracial relations, and male camaraderie is sharp and insightful. His attention to detail shows in every frame and adds to the edgy material, which balances the thriller plot with social commentary about corruption, labor relations, and the lure of power. Schrader's later films show more subtlety and cinematic confidence, but time hasn't dimmed the power he unleashes in this angry working class drama. The DVD features commentary by Paul Schrader, his first such audio track, guided and prodded by critic Maitland McDonagh, who does her best to draw the director out of his long silences and launch him into his fascinating production stories. --Sean Axmaker« less
An in-your-face gem about life on the assembly line!
Linda Linguvic | New York City | 12/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1978 underrated classic is about three autoworkers. There's an honest and gritty realism to this story and the four-letter words and curses have a ring of authenticity to them, especially those of Richard Pryor whose foul language has been compared to raw sewage mixed with social insight. He's cast in the role of Zeke Brown, who owes money to the IRS and struggles to support his wife and three children. Harvey Keitel plays Jerry Bawtowski, who also has trouble meeting his bills and can't even afford braces for his daughter. And Yaphet Kotto, a physically imposing black man who is actually the son of a Cameroonian crown prince, plays the role of Smoky James, an ex-con who throws wild parties with drugs and women which serve as escape for the growing frustration of the men. All three see the union as corrupt and decide to rob the union office. They hope to get a few thousand dollars apiece. Instead they get more than they bargained for and the series of events that follow lead to betrayal, and murder.This is the directional debut for writer/director Paul Shrader, known for writing Taxi Driver, and he does a masterful job. He puts the viewer right there on the assembly line, with the harsh clanging of heavy machinery and the constant pressure of the foreman to work faster and faster. I could almost feel the heat and smell the machine oil and sweat of the workers. Along with the physical labor, there's constant stress and this goes on day after day after day. The subject is serious and the story real but the wisecracks provide comic relief and the story is fast paced and gripping. An excellent blues musical score enhancing the action underscores all this. And all the performances were so good that I forgot they were acting. Eventually, the dramatic unsettling conclusion leaves a lot to think about.I loved this film and give it one of my highest ratings. It's not pleasant or comfortable to watch but it sure is real. And I learned more about the lives of assembly line workers than I ever thought I wanted to know. It's especially poignant seeing it now because Detroit has closed many of these plants since 1978 and this story now has historical perspective. But this tight, riveting story that's an in-your-face gem about life on the assembly line says something important about the American Dream. Don't miss it."
Tough, uncompromising look at the American working man
Continental Op | San Clemente, CA USA | 02/17/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Blue Collar" is one of the great underrated American films of the 1970s. It tells the story of three desperate, powerless men who work in a Detroit auto plant. When they're not being suppressed by their soulless company, they're being duped by their arrogant, corrupt labor union. Their collective desperation leads them to conduct an almost laughably amateurish robbery of the union safe. Instead, what they find is evidence of widespread union corruption. When they decide to blackmail the union, they find that three working men are no match for a ruthless, powerful labor union (and--in a larger sense--the American capitalist system).Director Paul Schrader (who co-wrote the film with his brother Leonard) presents this tale in a gritty, realistic fashion. Its bleak message is timeless, but the film is very much of the late 1970s, both in the sets (note the ugly orange sofas!) and in its infusion of drama and socio-political commentary. Filmed in Detroit, Kalamazoo, and Los Angeles, you really get the sense of the hopeless desperation of these three men, who are dying to make a better life for themselves and their families, but are trapped in soul-crushing jobs at the factory.Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto are their usual brilliant selves. The true surprise for most viewers will be Richard Pryor in one of the very few dramatic roles he ever played. He's hilarious, tragic, sympathetic, and--in the end--despicable all rolled into one.The DVD version of "Blue Collar" contains interesting bios of the three stars and of Schrader, and a commentary from the director and a female journalist (who spends much of the time swooning over Keitel...particularly when he's in his underwear!). Anyway, from the commentary, we learn that the 35-day shoot was an absolutely brutal one, especially since this was Schrader's first film as a director, and the fact that the three leads absolutely *HATED* each other. Physical altercations and set walk-offs were apparently the norm here. The fact that these three guys come off seeming like friends (for a time) illustrates their considerable acting ability and the magic of movies. The commentary itself is helpful, but Schrader starts running out of steam (it's clear he doesn't really like this movie very much) toward the end.The movie, however, never lets up. "Blue Collar" is a terrific analysis of the American working man, and the illusory nature of the so-called "American Dream"."
Professor Brizz | Interlochen, MI | 03/07/2010
(1 out of 5 stars)
"This review is for the product - the film is an under-rated gem that deserves a full restoration and proper DVD release, but instead Universal has relegated it to this garbage "Vault Series" line. What you get when ordering any film in this series is a DVD-R, not a commercially made DVD - with a basic case/cover that anyone could make at home. It's despicable and following on the heals of Warner Bros. similar attempts, a rather frightening portent of what's to come. The only recourse we have is to send a message that this is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Don't pay $20 for a 25 cent PC pressed copy! Universal should be ashamed of themselves!
To be perfectly clear, what you get is essentially a home-pressed DVD COPY, not a commercial DVD. There are no menus - you put it in and the film starts, that's it. No extras, no subtitles, and non-anamorphic middling transfers. Lost is the excellent Paul Schrader commentary from the long out of print Anchor Bay disc. Putting excellent films like this, Tell Them Willie Boy is Here, A Bronx Tale, and others - many of which were previously already available on DVD! - is absolutely insulting! They aren't worth the cost of shipping them, but they have the audacity to charge $20 a pop? Absolutely appalling greed that depends on uninformed consumers ordering blindly. Boycott these and they will go away!"
Rupert Pupkin | America | 02/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This little-seen film (hence the reason I'm the first and so far only person to review it) is one of my favorites of the '70s, which would pretty much make it one of my favorites ever since the '70s was the best decade for film ever. After writing successful screenplays for directors like Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma, Paul Schrader here makes his directorial debut, and it is still his best film to date. It's a searing, knowing drama about the lives of Detroit auto workers, and in it Richard Pryor gives his first dramatic performance. He's brilliant, and Harvey Keitel--no surprise here--matches him. If you'r a fan of filmmakers like Scorsese, you'll like Paul Schrader and this film in particular. Highly reccommended."
A flawed classic
K. D. Kelly | sf, ca | 12/13/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Long before the term "blue collar" became equated with Jeff Foxworthy, a stand-up comic who basically pilfers a one-note joke about his confederate flag-waver heritage over and over, blue collar referred to manual labor performed by GED-earners, usually under poor working conditions and low pay. Foxworthy was a white-collar worker. He built mainframes for IBM.
In 1978, "Blue Collar" was the first studio-backed film to feature two black actors as leads -- Yaphet Kotto and Richard Pryor -- both showing genuine flair for dramatic acting under the improbable direction of Paul Schrader, a squirrelly, self-loathing man who was apparently bullied on the set by Pryor, heavily into coke at the time. Schrader himself was just starting to develop a taste for nose candy, which is likely why after this, his directorial debut, he didn't do another thing worth a darn for at least eight years. Schrader, who wrote the screenplay for "Taxi Driver," co-wrote the film with his brother Leonard, another damaged man (thanks to their father), who, according to Peter Biskind's book, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," around this time would put the working end of a pistol in his mouth like a pacifier as an insomnia cure. Paul would eventually flirt with the idea of writing Leonard out of a film credit. Nobody can say these guys were far from the art they were creating.
"Blue Collar" explores some of the same themes as "Taxi Driver:" dissatisfied youth without a sense of purpose (or a college education) rebelling against a Nixonian system that was employing an outdated rulebook. The action revolves around three auto assembly line workers portrayed by Kotto, Pryor and Harvey Keitel, or as a minor character in the film observes, "an Oreo cookie." They are overworked, underpaid, hounded by supervisors at work and government agents after work hours, and unable to adequately support their families. They see a way out by robbing the union, which doesn't go as planned and quickly spirals out of control. All three leads contribute fine, nuanced performances that lend them credibility by the time the action becomes wrought with politics, corruption and greed a la "Chinatown," here substituting unions for water.
It's only at the very end that the film falters, as if Schrader had just given up filming, then later tried to tidy up an insufficient conclusion in the editing room. If he'd had the conviction to keep at it, "Blue Collar" might have been a masterpiece. As it is stands, it's a minor classic."