Three workers, Zeke (Richard Pryor), Jerry (Harvey Keitel), and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto), are working at a car plant and drinking their beers together. One night, when they steal away from their wives to have some fun, they get the idea to rob the local union's bureau safe. First they think it is a flop, because they get only six hundred dollars out of it, but then Zeke realizes that they also have gotten some "hot" material. They decide to blackmail their union. The best reason for that is the union itself. All three are provoked by the fact that the union claims to have lost ten thousand dollars by their robbery.Written by
No major auto company would allow this film to be shot at their factory, so the Checker Cab Company plant was used as the primary location. The name of the automobile company in the movie was also Checker Cab. One scene in the film depicted an assembly line of engines (which are Chevrolet small block V8s painted GM corporate blue) which Checker purchased from GM since 1965. Checker, as an automaker, ended production of its Marathon sedans in 1982, where the company became a GM contract manufacturing plant, stamping sheetmetal panels for GM automobiles. The company finally ceased operations in 2009 after the GM collapse. See more »
When Jerry, Zeke and Smoky are casing the union hall, Jerry asks "Who is in the Buick?" The car he is looking at is an Oldsmobile. See more »
"Blue Collar" opens with a masterful title sequence which introduces us, quickly and effectively, to the harsh world our characters reside in and to the nature of the conditions in the factory they work in. The opening sequence is set to Jack Nitzsche's "Hard Workin' Man", introducing blues music to us right off the bat, music that not only makes up basically all of the music in this film but can be seen as a motif or even a character in the film.
It's amazing how confident and mature Paul Schrader is as a director at this point. Of course, Schrader had already written the massively acclaimed "Taxi Driver" by 1978, but contrary to what one might expect it's his confident and sure handling of the pace and mood in "Blue Collar" that is truly the highlight of the film, not the screenplay penned by Paul and Leonard Schrader, granted the screenplay is in itself quite terrific. Schrader is already a mature director who understands the rhythm of a film.
Going back to the use of music in this film, it isn't so much the score itself by Jack Nitzsche (which is, don't get me wrong, solid blues) that's impressive, it's Schrader's handling of the music and sound in general in this film that makes it work so well. First off, the choice to go with a blues score is inspired in itself, as the nature of the music so perfectly captures what these characters are going through. In addition, the score is most noticeable during scenes where the film appears to be commenting on the futility of the characters' struggle and the misery of what they're going through. Where many films would use music to 'enhance' big, dramatic scenes, Schrader's "Blue Collar" makes the wise decision to use it during low-key scenes. There are several scenes that don't feature any music at all, these being some of the more important scenes. Note the scene where Smokey gets trapped in the paint room, absolutely no music, just the cold sound of the machinery (expertly mixed, might I add), which is far creepier and more effective than any score could be at that point. Similar use of sound occurs a few minutes before the end when Harvey Keitel's character Jerry is being chased.
The acting here is uniformly superb with Keitel possibly giving his best performance (or at least one of them), and Richard Pryor offering what must be recognized as one of the finest performances of the 70's by anyone. Really, who knew Pryor had this sort of skill when it comes to dramatic acting? Yapphet Koto, a beloved character actor, does a fine job in rounding out the cast for the main three characters. Again, Schrader must be credited for directing his actors so well. It's well-known, of course, that the three leads hated each other and actually broke out in fistfights between takes on occasion. Perhaps that created a sort of demented chemistry between them.
The screenplay by Schrader and Schrader (Paul and Leonard) is a fine, fine piece of writing, sort of the daytime factory-worker version of the crude-yet-poetic "Taxi Driver" screenplay. Oddly enough, it's also the source of the few major flaws in this film, as it can come across as fairly heavy-handed in certain scenes. If there's one thing I'd definitely do differently with this film, it's the final shot, which would have been terrific had this been a comedy.
All in all, a great film in its own right and especially impressive as a directorial debut from Schrader. Very memorable.
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