Tag Archives: Paul Schrader

UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #5 – BLUE COLLAR (1978)

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.


FIRST REFORMED (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW – “Stunning work from Hawke and Schrader.”

FIRST REFORMED (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and Directed by: Paul Schrader

Produced by: Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Victoria Hill, Gary Hamilton, Deepak Sikka, Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Philip Ettinger

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Paul Schrader is one of the greatest writers that has ever committed a career to cinema. He has been involved in the writing of exceptional films including: Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Blue Collar (1978), American Gigolo (1980), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Light Sleeper (1992), Affliction (1997) etc. Of late he’d had some misfires, however, First Reformed, is a devastating return to form for Schrader.

Tapping into the structure and themes of arguably his greatest work, Taxi Driver (1976), we find Ethan Hawke portraying New York chaplain, Reverend Ernst Toller. He is a complex, haunted and sad man, yet instilled with a strong sense of duty and commitment to his dwindling congregation. He keeps a journal to record his thoughts and these are delivered via a devastating voice-over. Hawke’s voice staggers across the images delivering a combination of existential pleas for understanding and an intelligent questioning of the world around him. Toller’s depression or malaise is not helped by his alcoholism and illness spreading through his body. Thus, Schrader and Hawke create a very empathetic character, out of sync and in grief but very likable to his peers and flock.

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When Amanda Seyfried’s local mum-to-be Mary comes to see him about her troubled husband, Michael, Toller agrees to speak with him about his concerns for the world and the damage humans are inflicting on the environment. When the drama arrives you just feel every agonising moment through Hawke’s beautifully realised character. Just watching Ethan Hawke in a room is enough for me as he is such a nuanced and clever actor. Schrader frames Toller in doorways, rooms, shadows, mirrors and pulpits, pushing him into spaces and trapping him. The sparse nature of the sets also acts as a symbol of Toller’s emptiness and feeling of despair at the world. Yet, at no time does he question his faith per se. The film certainly has an air of that but the big indictment is the horror we have perpetuated upon God’s Earth; challenging whether we deserve this beautiful planet.

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Ultimately, this is quintessential Paul Schrader. Taking a broken individual in the midst of a life crisis and attempting to find salvation or redemption. Whereas Taxi Driver (1976) was, in part, about Travis Bickle cleaning up the streets of New York, Ernst Toller finds a desire to clean up the corporate and capitalist industrial processes which are destroying the Earth. While First Reformed’s ending is not as explosive or cathartic as Taxi Driver it paradoxically creates hope for a fascinating character nonetheless. While he may not be able to save the Earth, Reverend Toller, may somehow be able to save himself.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11