UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #5 – BLUE COLLAR (1978)
Directed by: Paul Schrader
Produced by: Don Guest
Written by: Leonard Schrader and Paul Schrader
Cast: Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Ed Begley Jnr.
I started this series a while ago and posted a few times on the subject with multiple entries; however, I have now decided to make it a feature, like ‘Classic Movie Scenes’, concentrating on singular films. My rules are simple – an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus not be one of the following:
- Must not have won an Oscar.
- Must not have won a BAFTA.
- Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
- Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
- Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
- Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
Blue Collar (1978) was Paul Schrader’s directorial debut. He had gained much critical and film industry kudos following the release of the exceptional psychological drama Taxi Driver (1976). His screenplay for that classic is one of the best I have ever read, such is the raw power and agony in the character of Travis Bickle. Blue Collar (1978) though is more of an ensemble drama, centring on the tribulations of a group of car workers in Detroit, rather than an individual’s slow descent into madness.
Blue Collar (1978) is rarely on television and is arguably a forgotten classic on Schrader’s impressive cinematic curriculum vitae. The plot revolves around workers on the poverty line deciding to get out of their predicament by robbing their local Union’s Office’s safe. This leads all manner of difficulties for the men as they face the anger of corrupt Union bosses who come for them. In a rare dramatic role, Richard Pryor brings an energetic rage and humour to the character of Zeke. At the same time Harvey Keitel is intensity itself as his friend, Jerry.
According to sources, the conflict in the film between management, Union and workers is reflected by the on-set troubles between the cast and director. It is alleged that working with Keitel and Pryor was so stressful Schrader had a nervous breakdown on set. How much this strife was down to drug use and abuse is open to conjecture, however, Blue Collar (1978) remains an under-rated classic today. It has many memorable scenes and remains a damning indictment of capitalism and socialism inasmuch as such ideologies ultimately turn human beings against each other.