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BLUE COLLAR(director/writer: Paul Schrader; screenwriters: Leonard Schrader/suggested by source material by Sydney A. Glass; cinematographer: Bobby Byrne; editor: Tom Rolf; music: Jack Nitzsche; cast: Richard Pryor (Zeke), Harvey Keitel (Jerry), Yaphet Kotto (Smokey), Ed Begley Jr (Bobby Joe), Harry Bellaver (Eddie Johnson), George Memmoli (Jenkens), Lucy Saroyan (Arlene Bartowski), Lane Smith (Clarence Hill), Cliff De Young (FBI Agent); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Don Guest; Anchor Bay Entertainment; 1978)
“It’s intense, well-acted, gives one a good idea about everyday factory life and offers a clear-sighted muckraking take on blue collar types …”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The directorial debut of Paul Schrader (“American Gigolo”/”Hardcore”/”Affliction”) vividly tells of worker frustration in trying to deal with their uncaring bosses and their corrupt local union of the Detroit auto industry. It’s cowritten by Schrader and his brother Leonard Schrader, who use as their source material from Sydney A. Glass.

Three guys, two African-American, Zeke (Richard Pryor) and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto), and one Polish, Jerry (Harvey Keitel), are unhappy workers on the assembly line in a Detroit automobile factory. The three angry dudes all have money woes. The loudmouth Zeke pleads with his union rep (Lane Smith) for the last six months about fixing his locker with no results and is in debt to the Internal Revenue Service for claiming six children instead of his actual three. The married Jerry works two jobs to try and get out of debt, and still needs money for his daughter’s braces. Smokey is an ex-con and a bachelor, who acts like a Playboy and is in a jam because he owes his loan shark. The three pals decide to get even with the union that is only giving them lip service in representing them but really is in bed with the bosses, by robbing their headquarters. The masked armed robbery earns them a mere $600, but they unexpectedly snatch evidence of union corruption and union links with organized crime. They’re now out of their league, as violence, paranoia and recriminations erupt around them.

Too downbeat, edgy and profane in its gritty reality to connect in the box office with a 1970’s audience, the film was nevertheless critically acclaimed. It’s intense, well-acted, gives one a good idea about everyday factory life and offers a clear-sighted muckraking take on blue collar types who cross-the-line when they discover that it’s not just management but their own union that is ripping them off. Despite heavy doses of realism, the drama still has some manipulative and artificial moments. For one, there’s the freeze-frame ending that has the union sellout black worker being confronted by a white worker, as the message tells us the system turns worker against worker and makes sure that black and white don’t unite.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”