Blue Collar (1978)

R | 114 mins | Drama | 10 February 1978

Director:

Paul Schrader

Producer:

Don Guest

Cinematographer:

Robert Byrne

Editor:

Tom Rolf

Production Designer:

Lawrence G. Paull

Production Companies:

T. A. T. Communications Company, Universal Pictures
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HISTORY

       As noted in 13 Feb 1978 Newsweek and 13 May 1980 LAT articles, writer-director Paul Schrader was inspired by the story of African-American screenwriter Sydney A. Glass, who told Schrader about his father, a lifelong Detroit automobile plant worker who committed suicide due to his involvement in a union theft. Although Glass expressed interest in writing the story, Schrader and his brother, Leonard Schrader, wrote their own script using the same subject matter. When Glass heard of Schrader’s project, he protested to the Black Writers Committee of the Writers Guild of America, who ordered Schrader to resolve the matter before production began. This resulted in Glass receiving one-third of Schrader’s screenwriter’s fee and an onscreen “suggested by source material by” credit.
       Schrader, an established screenwriter known for films such as Taxi Driver (1976, see entry) and Rolling Thunder (1977, see entry), was eager to direct his own work. According to a 22 Jun 1977 LAT article, Schrader began developing Blue Collar in May 1976. He signed actors Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel to the project before attracting Norman Lear’s production company, T.A.T. Communications, to fund the film’s development by putting up the money “to hold the actors” before negotiating a “negative pickup” deal with Universal Pictures as discussed in 15 Jun 1977 DV article; Universal agreed to finance the movie in exchange for distribution rights and a split of the profits with the producers. Previously a television production company, T.A.T. Communications made its first foray into feature film production with Blue Collar.
       As stated in the ... More Less

       As noted in 13 Feb 1978 Newsweek and 13 May 1980 LAT articles, writer-director Paul Schrader was inspired by the story of African-American screenwriter Sydney A. Glass, who told Schrader about his father, a lifelong Detroit automobile plant worker who committed suicide due to his involvement in a union theft. Although Glass expressed interest in writing the story, Schrader and his brother, Leonard Schrader, wrote their own script using the same subject matter. When Glass heard of Schrader’s project, he protested to the Black Writers Committee of the Writers Guild of America, who ordered Schrader to resolve the matter before production began. This resulted in Glass receiving one-third of Schrader’s screenwriter’s fee and an onscreen “suggested by source material by” credit.
       Schrader, an established screenwriter known for films such as Taxi Driver (1976, see entry) and Rolling Thunder (1977, see entry), was eager to direct his own work. According to a 22 Jun 1977 LAT article, Schrader began developing Blue Collar in May 1976. He signed actors Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel to the project before attracting Norman Lear’s production company, T.A.T. Communications, to fund the film’s development by putting up the money “to hold the actors” before negotiating a “negative pickup” deal with Universal Pictures as discussed in 15 Jun 1977 DV article; Universal agreed to finance the movie in exchange for distribution rights and a split of the profits with the producers. Previously a television production company, T.A.T. Communications made its first foray into feature film production with Blue Collar.
       As stated in the 15 Jun 1977 Var and a 30 May 1977 Box brief, principal photography began on 16 May 1977 with an eight-week shooting schedule. Filming was planned for two weeks at the Checker Cab assembly line in Kalamazoo, MI. The Checker Motor Corporation agreed to provide locations after Chrysler Motors backed out of the production, claiming film activity would be “too distracting” for workers, according to an 18 May 1977 Var brief. Additionally, two weeks were devoted to street scenes in Detroit, MI, and four weeks were spent on location in Los Angeles, CA.
       Tensions were high on the set during production, according to the 22 Jun 1977 LAT and 13 Feb 1978 Newsweek articles. Each of the three lead actors -- Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto -- walked off the set at one time or another, with at least one occasion requiring lawyers to intercede.
       According to a 26 Apr 1978 Var article, the film was completed with an estimated budget just under $3 million.
       Blue Collar won the grand prize at the 1978 Paris International Film Festival, as announced in a 24 Oct 1978 DV article.

      End credits include the following statement: “The filmmakers would like to thank Checker Motors Corp. of Kalamazoo, Michigan, for their help and cooperation in making this film possible. The conditions depicted in this film are not reflective of Checker Motors Corp., its employees or its union. We also wish to thank the city of Detroit, Michigan, and the Detroit Police Dept. for their help and assistance."
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
30 May 1977.
---
Box Office
27 Jun 1977.
---
Daily Variety
9 May 1977.
---
Daily Variety
15 Jun 1977
p. 38, 42.
Daily Variety
4 Aug 1977.
---
Daily Variety
8 Feb 1978.
---
Daily Variety
24 Oct 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 May 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Feb 1978
p. 3, 7.
Los Angeles Times
22 Jun 1977
p. 1, 12.
Los Angeles Times
15 Mar 1978
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
13 May 1980
p. 1-2.
New York Times
10 Feb 1978
p. 5.
Newsweek
13 Feb 1978.
---
Variety
18 May 1977.
---
Variety
10 Aug 1977.
---
Variety
8 Feb 1978
p. 18.
Variety
26 Apr 1978.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A T.A.T. Communications Company Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr/1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
Suggested by source material by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Dolly grip
Addl photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst film ed
Apprentice film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Prop master
Const
COSTUMES
Ward
Ward
MUSIC
Spec mus arr
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod consultant
Tech consultant
Scr supv
Prod coord
T.A.T. prod exec
Asst to the prod
Asst to Paul Schrader
Asst to Paul Schrader
Loc auditor
Transportation
Transportation
Detroit coord
Automobiles supplied by
STAND INS
Stunt driver
Stunt driver
Stunt driver
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Blue Collar Title Song 'Hard Workin' Man'," music by Jack Nitzsche, lyrics by Jack Nitzsche, Ry Cooder and Paul Schrader, performed by Captain Beefheart
"From Barrooms To Bedrooms," music and lyrics by Seymour S. Rosenberg, David William Wills, performed by David Wills
"Saturday Night Special," music and lyrics by Edward C. King, Ronald W. Vanzant, performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd, courtesy of MCA Records' "Wang Dang Doodle," music and lyrics by Willie Dixon, performed by Howlin Wolf, courtesy of Platinum Record Co., Inc.
+
SONGS
"Blue Collar Title Song 'Hard Workin' Man'," music by Jack Nitzsche, lyrics by Jack Nitzsche, Ry Cooder and Paul Schrader, performed by Captain Beefheart
"From Barrooms To Bedrooms," music and lyrics by Seymour S. Rosenberg, David William Wills, performed by David Wills
"Saturday Night Special," music and lyrics by Edward C. King, Ronald W. Vanzant, performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd, courtesy of MCA Records' "Wang Dang Doodle," music and lyrics by Willie Dixon, performed by Howlin Wolf, courtesy of Platinum Record Co., Inc.
"Speak My Mind," music and lyrics and performed by J. B. Hutto, courtesy of Columbia Records
"Goodbye, So Long," music and lyrics by Ike Turner, performed by Ike and Tina Turner, courtesy of Caded Records
"The World I'm Livin' In," music and lyrics by Jack Virgil Skinner, performed by Byron Berline and Sundance, courtesy of MCA Records, Inc.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
10 February 1978
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 10 February 1978
Los Angeles opening: 15 March 1978
Production Date:
16 May--mid July 1977 in Kalamazoo, MI
Detroit, MI and Los Angeles, CA
Copyright Claimant:
Universal City Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
28 June 1978
Copyright Number:
PA8974
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
114
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Factory foreman “Dogshit” Miller patrols the floor of the Checker Motors automobile plant and verbally harasses workers. Later, at the AAW Local 291 Union meeting lead by union representative Clarence “Kiss Ass” Hill, African American Checkers employee Ezekiel “Zeke” Brown berates Miller for continually ignoring his complaint about his broken locker. However, Clarence contends that he does not want to bother the union over small issues. Incensed, Zeke threatens to campaign for Clarence’s job in the next election. After the meeting, Zeke, ex-convict Smokey James and Jerry Bartowski, the lone Caucasian, go for a drink at Little Joe’s Bar. There, they are approached by John Burrows, who claims to be a professor writing a thesis on unions. Burrows inquires about their union leader, Eddie “Knuckles” Johnson, and Clarence. Before the group can respond, Smokey accuses Burrows of being an undercover F.B.I. agent looking to reveal union corruption and the group leaves the bar. At home, Zeke is unexpectedly visited by an I.R.S. agent named Mr. Berg, who accuses Zeke of making false claims on his taxes and claims he owes the government over $2,000. Meanwhile, across town, Burrows visits Jerry at his second job as a gas attendant. Burrows believes Clarence and Eddie stole money from the union, but Jerry insists he knows nothing. When Jerry returns home, his wife, Arlene, informs him that their daughter, Debbie, needs orthodontic braces. The next day, Zeke complains to Eddie about Clarence and his broken locker. Pretending to telephone Clarence, Eddie tries to placate Zeke, but as Zeke leaves, he notices a walk-in safe. Another evening, Zeke and ... +


Factory foreman “Dogshit” Miller patrols the floor of the Checker Motors automobile plant and verbally harasses workers. Later, at the AAW Local 291 Union meeting lead by union representative Clarence “Kiss Ass” Hill, African American Checkers employee Ezekiel “Zeke” Brown berates Miller for continually ignoring his complaint about his broken locker. However, Clarence contends that he does not want to bother the union over small issues. Incensed, Zeke threatens to campaign for Clarence’s job in the next election. After the meeting, Zeke, ex-convict Smokey James and Jerry Bartowski, the lone Caucasian, go for a drink at Little Joe’s Bar. There, they are approached by John Burrows, who claims to be a professor writing a thesis on unions. Burrows inquires about their union leader, Eddie “Knuckles” Johnson, and Clarence. Before the group can respond, Smokey accuses Burrows of being an undercover F.B.I. agent looking to reveal union corruption and the group leaves the bar. At home, Zeke is unexpectedly visited by an I.R.S. agent named Mr. Berg, who accuses Zeke of making false claims on his taxes and claims he owes the government over $2,000. Meanwhile, across town, Burrows visits Jerry at his second job as a gas attendant. Burrows believes Clarence and Eddie stole money from the union, but Jerry insists he knows nothing. When Jerry returns home, his wife, Arlene, informs him that their daughter, Debbie, needs orthodontic braces. The next day, Zeke complains to Eddie about Clarence and his broken locker. Pretending to telephone Clarence, Eddie tries to placate Zeke, but as Zeke leaves, he notices a walk-in safe. Another evening, Zeke and Jerry sneak out of their houses to go to a party at Smokey’s, who provides them with prostitutes and cocaine. As the evening wanes, the trio laments their lot in life and Zeke mentions the union safe, suggesting they rob it. Zeke brings the plan up again the next day at work. Although Jerry is reluctant, he changes his mind when he discovers his daughter injured her mouth with wire in an attempt to make her own braces. Zeke believes there could be as much as $10,000 in the safe. The friends spend the next few weeks planning the robbery, but on the night of the break-in, they find only $600 in petty cash and a notebook. They are almost caught by a security guard whom they knock unconscious. The next day, Eddie tells the press that more than $10,000 was stolen. The security guard gives the police a description of two black men and one white man. That evening, Zeke goes through the stolen notebook and realizes the union is making illegal loans at exorbitant interest rates. After telling Smokey and Jerry, he contemplates going to the F.B.I. with the information, but Jerry worries that the union might come after them. Smokey disagrees and suggests they blackmail the union. He instructs Zeke to photocopy a page from the notebook and send it to Eddie with a note, stating that if the union is interested in negotiating for the book’s return, they must print an advertisement in the local paper. The next day at the plant, “Dogshit” harasses Zeke who, in turn, threatens to kill him. Dogshit reports Zeke to the superintendent and demands his termination. Neither Clarence nor the superintendent want to go through the trouble of a union hearing so they convince Zeke and Dogshit to make amends. Moments later, Smokey tells Zeke they got a response from the union. At the next union meeting, Eddie and Clarence claim that over $20,000 was stolen from the union strike fund and that they plan to file an insurance claim. Afterward, Smokey and Jerry are confronted by illegal bookmaker Charlie T. Hernandez, who demands that Smokey pay his $1,000 debt. Smokey claims he has plans to get the money through his union blackmail scheme and asks for more time. The trio meets later and realizes that they must never be seen together because the police will catch onto them. Shortly afterwards, Hernandez is arrested for a shooting and offers to tell the police what he knows about the union robbery in return for release. Later, Eddie reviews the trio’s union files. He believes Zeke and Jerry can be bargained with, but Smokey is nothing but trouble. One evening at Little Joe’s, Smokey overhears two men discussing a plan to break into Jerry’s house to attack his family. Smokey calls Arlene and makes up a story to get her out of the house. He then goes to Jerry’s home, greets the intruders with a baseball bat, and forces one to admit they were hired by Eddie. The next day, Eddie tells Zeke that Clarence was transferred and offers him the union representative job in exchange for the return of the stolen notebook. Zeke asks for assurances that nothing bad will happen to Smokey and Jerry, and Eddie agrees. However, Smokey dies in an “accident” while working at the plant the next day. Furious, Zeke accuses Eddie of murdering Smokey, but Eddie lectures Zeke on the harsh realities of being a union leader and the need to “look the other way.” Worried for his family’s safety, Jerry sends his wife and children out of town, then tries to convince Zeke to go to the F.B.I., but Zeke refuses, stating they will both go to jail if they talk. When Zeke announces his promotion and offers to promote his friend, Jerry realizes that the union bought off Zeke. Jerry says that Zeke is deluding himself if he thinks he can make any real changes within the union; however, Zeke believes that as an African American, this is his best shot at success. Jerry secretly meets with Burrows, hoping to cut a deal to protect himself if he informs on the union, but Burrows can only offer a suspended jail sentence. Jerry refuses and, after talking to his wife, decides to run away to Canada. As he drives north, men with shotguns give chase. Before Jerry can cross the border, the cars crash. When police arrive, Jerry demands to talk to the F.B.I. about Smokey’s murder. Sometime later, Jerry returns to the plant with Burrows and another F.B.I agent to clean out his locker. Zeke accuses Jerry of betraying the union, but Jerry accuses Zeke of trying to have him killed. Both scream racial epithets before lunging at each other. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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