After finding success as a screenwriter on films such as Taxi Driver (directed by Martin Scorsese) and Obsession (directed by Brian DePalma), Paul Schrader earned enough clout to direct his own material. Schrader’s directorial debut Blue Collar follows three auto workers who can’t catch a break. Zeke (Richard Pryor) and Jerry (Harvey Keitel) are family guys, trying to do right by their wives and children, but struggling to make ends meet. Smokey (Yaphet Kotto) is single, a partier and served time in prison. He knows the score but finds himself trapped in lower middle-class monotony.
It’s bad enough that that Zeke is in debt to the Internal Revenue Service for claiming six children instead of his actual three, but for six months, despite constant pleading, his union supervisor (Lane Smith) has been lying about fixing his locker. Jerry is working a second job, yet still needs money to afford his daughter’s braces. Smokey owes money to a loan shark. Fed up, the three pals decide it’s time to get back at the union who claims to represent them but is really in bed with the big bosses. They decide to rob union headquarters after Zeke spots a vault with little security. Even if they won’t be set for life, the take should give them some breathing room for once. Unfortunately, when the guys enter the vault all they find are a stack of papers and a few hundred dollars; nothing close to the thousands they envisioned. Later, Zeke realizes that the paperwork stolen from the vault contains evidence of corruption and union links to organized crime.
The guys must decide whether to put everything back in the vault, contact the media and expose the corruption, or blackmail the union. They quickly find themselves in over their heads, entangled in a web of violence, paranoia and accusations. The strain of it all threatens to break apart what was once a strong bond between the three men.
Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel are terrific, but it’s Richard Pryor who really shines here. In a rare dramatic role, he shows real acting talent. In 1978, Pryor was at the height of his comedic fame, so perhaps audiences didn’t want to see him in a dramatic role. That might explain why Blue Collar performed poorly at the box office. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray offers an excellent chance to see one of Richard Pryor’s best, often overlooked performances.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is a a solid 1080p transfer, offering a clean, detail image with vivid colors throughout.
The DTS-HD Master 2.0 (mono) is well balanced, allowing for an impressive rendering of Jack Nitzsche’s score.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Paul Schrader and Journalist Maitland McDonagh: A fascinating listen as Schrader details the difficulties between co-stars. He felt he had little control on the set and it eventually led to his own nervous breakdown. It’s amazing the film is as good as it is.
Blue Collar (1978)
Movie title: Blue Collar
Duration: 114 min
Director(s): Paul Schrader
Actor(s): Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto , Ed Begley Jr. , Harry Bellaver, George Memmoli
Genre: Drama, Crime