CRIMEWATCH: Blue Collar
Zeke Brown (Richard Pryor) Jerry Bartoski (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey James (Yaphet Kotto) work at a Detroit auto factory where their boss is constantly on their backs. Their only real way of letting off steam is hanging out at the union bar nearby, where they drink, tell stories and crack jokes.
One night, a stranger (Cliff DeYoung) stops by their table asking if he can interview them about their local union for a college thesis he’s preparing. After some negative words are spoken about the union the three co-worker pals get a feeling something isn’t right and turn him away angrily. It turns out this “student” is actually a federal agent trying to find out about corruption within the union. The friends remain tightlipped and refuse to give out any negative information, yet at the same time the factory seems to ignore all their requests for help to make their work environment better. Basically it’s run like a building with a landlord who refuses to fix the problems the tenants have.
We can also see from their home lives that they are barely scraping by: Zeke owes back taxes and Jerry’s daughter is forced to make her own braces out of wire. With nothing bright on the horizon, Zeke, Jerry and Smokey decide the only way out of their financial woes is to rob the union headquarters. They break into the safe without trouble but are suddenly interrupted by a security guard who they surprise (the disguises they put on are the films funniest sight gag) and Smokey knocks him out. They come away from the robbery with some cash but more importantly they find a ledger book which reveals the unions secret dealings with organized crime. Their plan is to blackmail the union officials with it and get a large amount of money in return. Things seem to go according to plan at first but then get more and more out of control as the situation causes a rift between their friendship and puts their lives in danger.
Paul Schrader made his mark in Hollywood as a screenwriter with such notable projects as The Yakuza (1975), Taxi Driver (1976) and Obsession (1976) and was known for his hard edged stories often dealing with the underbelly of society and misunderstood outsiders. Blue Collar was his directorial debut and like his other scripts it’s equally intense. This was one of comedian Richard Pryor’s most serious dramatic roles and he’s really excellent here playing Zeke, a rebellious but desperate man looking for a way to make his life better.
FURIOUS FILM GEEK NOTE: Look for a fun little cameo from George “We don’t pay mooks” Memmoli as an auto worker who does battle with a broken down coffee machine.