Paul Schrader's directorial debut examines the trials of Detroit autoworkers living at the mercy of a heartless corporation and a corrupt union. Surviving from paycheck to paycheck, Checker Cab assembly linemen Zeke (Richard Pryor), Jerry (Harvey Keitel), and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto) scrape by and take pleasure in a few rounds of beer or bowling (and occasional illicit amusements). But when their money troubles pile up, Jerry and Smokey join Zeke in a desperate plan to steal cash from their local union office. Along with a piddling $600, they unexpectedly swipe evidence of union corruption. Deciding to use it for blackmail, the men discover instead how powerfully malevolent the union can be in a system that counts on petty divisiveness to keep the larger power structure intact. Inspired by stories of real-life disillusionment, Schrader and his brother/co-writer Leonard Schrader took on politically difficult issues of race and corporate labor, infusing the indictment of unions with a suggestion of post-Watergate paranoia about forces beyond the union that keep workers in their place. From the opening sequence of the assembly line to the final evocative freeze-frame, Schrader maintains an atmosphere of gritty realism, with the lead trio lending low-key dramatic force to a situation beyond their control. Too downbeat for a late '70s audience increasingly drawn to happier fare, Blue Collar flopped, yet it did earn Schrader critical accolades. Although he has reportedly since disowned the film, Blue Collar remains one of Schrader's best works, with Zeke and Jerry powered by the same sense of simmering frustration that would explode so effectively in Affliction two decades later.