Ask most folks what their favorite Richard Pryor movie is, and they’re guaranteed not to say 1978’s “Blue Collar”, co-written and directed by Paul Schrader (his film directing debut).

I can list a few reasons why more in the general public aren’t familiar with this film. It bombed at the box office because it was marketed as a Richard Pryor comedy (the original poster featured only Pryor, even though it’s more of an ensemble), but it’s more of a drama with comedic overtones.

I DVR’d this movie a few months ago, but just got around to seeing it for the first time a couple weeks ago.

“Blue Collar” could be one of the most significant films of the past forty years. It’s actually a grim critique of three underpaid and overworked Detroit auto factory workers in the late 1970’s, who decide to break into the office of their union to take what’s in the safe-box (They get the idea after participating in a coke fueled orgy), and like most characters in Schrader’s films, things don’t work out well for them.

Pryor was just coming off his multiple role performance in “Which Way Is Up” (which has similarities to “Blue Collar”), and he brings some of that energy to this role.

Yahet Kotto and Harvey Keitel also star as Zeke’s (Pryor’s character) co-workers, Smoky and Jerry. Kotto’s character Smoky is the heart of the story, in my opinion.

Also starring is veteran actress Chip Fields (mother of Kim Fields) – best known for appearing in the “Spider-Man” TV series and “Good Times” during the mid 70’s – who plays Zeke’s wife.

Schrader does a good job of closing in each main character’s world and situation.

Another reason I feel this movie isn’t shown more often on cable TV is due to the topic of low paid workers & their no-win situation with the union bosses. There haven’t been many scripted feature films dealing with U.S. autoworkers/auto unions. Besides Micheal Moore’s documentary “Roger & Me” (1989), and “Gung Ho” (1986) starring Micheal Keaton, I can’t think of any others.

“Blue Collar” also plays as a time capsule by filming on location in Detroit and Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1977, inside an actual auto factory that produced those famous taxi cabs of the 70’s & 80’s that cruised the streets of NYC (Schrader also wrote the script for Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”).

The ending of the film is very much a commentary on the true nature of “divide and conquer”.

“Blue Collar” won’t be on most lists of *popular* Richard Pryor films, but it’s one of his works that showed he could have done more serious, dramatic projects.

In the political climate we’re in, “Blue Collar” should find a new audience among today’s working class laborers.

The film is available on YouTube for the time being.