Blue Collar

Dir: Paul Schrader, 1978


Distributors are funny people. They will sell the crap out of a movie that’s, maybe, half-decent at best but shun little gems like this one.

Three friends, Zeke (Richard Pryor), Jerry (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto), struggle to make ends meet, working at a car manufacturing plant.

Aggrieved with the union’s lack of interest to get anything done, the trio break into the safe of the union and find a ledger containing information about illegal activities and criminal underworld involvement.

Not knowing much about the American class system, I can’t really comment but, from an Englishman’s point of view, Blue Collar is a genuine, working class film of the sort that Britain, so proudly, are masters of.

The film has some faint echoes of The Angry Silence and F.I.S.T. with a light sprinkling of Carry On At Your Convenience. Well, okay, maybe not the last one but there is a one or two comedic touches courtesy of the stand-up comic.

This is, quite possibly, Richard Pryor’s best performance and shows the world what he was capable of.

An enormous talent, Pryor was an expert comedian and gifted comic actor but, it’s here, where he really shines.

Undoubtedly the star of the film, the comedian runs rings around his co-stars, confidently showing them how it should be done.

We are shown a full range of emotions from anger, to despair and fear. Pryor never got the full merit that he deserved.

Aside from The Lady Sings The Blues and Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, Pryor, seldom, got to show his dramatic side and it’s a shame because he had so much to offer.

It’s difficult to extol any virtue on the remaining cast members as Pryor steals the film, but even without him the cast pales.

Harvey Keitel is Harvey Keitel in anything he does. There is a distinct lack of variance in his characters and they all come off as the same. The actor’s entire range is sleazy, angry and corrupt. That’s all he can do.

To be fair, it does work here but that doesn’t detract from his lack of thespian scope.

Yaphet Kotto, for me, has never been a forceful presence in cinema. Directors seem to cast him as a throwaway actor. This isn’t any different. 

Many films have had the look and feel inspired by Schrader’s direction, even if they don’t realise it.

Jerry Orbach’s labour leader in Uli Edel’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, was blatantly influenced by Lane Smith’s Clarence Hill. 

Blue Collar is what would, proudly, be known as “kitchen sink drama” that was so prevalent in British cinema of the fifties and sixties. Although it, obviously, doesn’t have that English feel that is needed, it sits, deservedly, along the greats of such fare.

Unfortunately, the distributors marketed the film in entirely the wrong way, playing up to Pryor’s notoriety as a funny man. This tactic pulled the crowd in but, ultimately, left cinema goers irked at the abscence of humour.

Jack Nitzche’s soundtrack is rather scarce, however, the song Hard Workin’ Man, that accompanies the opening credits, is a stand out piece that perfectly captures and punctuates the back-breaking drudgery the working man has to endure.

Blue Collar is a full on, hard hitting drama that should be given more recognition and seeb by a much wider audience.


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