BLOW OUT-United States-1981

Dennis Franz (l) as Manny Karp

Written and Directed by Brian De Palma

Blow Out is a masterpiece of a suspense movie. John Travolta is brilliant in the role of Jack Terry. A sound man for movies, Terry is on a bridge one night listening and recording different night sounds on his tape recorder (this is the 80’s; we still used tape back then). Suddenly, Jack hears a car coming across a bridge, out of control. He hears a bang and then the car goes into the water below. He rescues a young woman from the car, but is unable to save the other passenger. At the hospital he tells his story to the police; what he saw, what he did and most importantly what he heard. The police and another man tell him to forget all about the woman in the car as if she was never there. It turns out that the man who was killed in the accident was the governor of the state and likely the next President of the good old United States of America. They tell Jack that surely he doesn’t want the governor’s family embarrassed by finding out he had his hand up some woman other than his wife’s skirt. But that’s not the issue with Jack; the issue is what he heard and not what he saw. Did Jack hear a gunshot before the tire blew out? The bigger question is that if that is indeed what he heard, how he is going to get anyone to listen. Pretty soon, he finds himself and Sally (the woman in the car) in the middle of a conspiracy that puts the both of them in grave danger.

Blow Out is a film that brings me back to a time when Brian De Palma was a master of the suspense film. Blow Out borrows heavily from the infamous Chappaquiddick incident involving Senator Edward Kennedy and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. The only difference being that in Blow Out it’s the politician and not the “mistress” who dies in the accident. The point here is not in the similarities, but in the way De Palma directs this film as if the camera were grafted to his hand. There are scenes in the film where the tension builds so high you think the screen is going to snap in two.

Before Pulp Fiction made him a household name again, and before you could hear his name without hearing the words ‘Scientology’ or ‘jet plane’, Blow Out was easily the best performance of John Travolta’s career. It was the first film of his that shows us that there was a lot more to the man than Vinnie Barbarino and Welcome Back Kotter episodes. Blow Out is Travolta’s moment in the sun and he makes the best of it in every scene.

In the role of Sally, Nancy Allen proves that she can go from bitch (Chris Hargensen in Carrie) to bimbo in two seconds flat. There is a sweetness to her performance that almost makes you forget the real reason she was in the car in the first place. Dennis Franz is appealingly slimy as Manny, her somewhat partner in crime. The creepiest performance in the film comes from John Lithgow as the assassin on the trail of Jack and Sally. I personally don’t think any actor can play menacing as naturally as Lithgow.

Blow Out not only alludes to the Chappaqiddick incident; it also alludes to Watergate and the Kennedy assassination. But the main theme above all that is the movie-making process in and of itself. The matching of sound to film, the editing process and the end result of it all. With Blow Out, De Palma has made his masterpiece. This is his film through and through.


During the editing process, two reels of footage from the Liberty Parade sequence were stolen and were never to be seen again. This meant that the scenes had to be reshot at a cost of $750,000. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond was no longer available, so he was replaced by László Kovács.
Also alludes to the Watergate scandal and the JFK assassination.
John Travolta suffered from insomnia during the shoot. His lack of sleep helped him create a very moody performance and is why his character seems so downtrodden throughout the movie.
Al Pacino was director Brian De Palma’s first choice for the role of Jack Terry. When he proved unavailable John Travolta was signed, prompting a suggestion from at least one studio executive to cast Olivia Newton-John, Travolta’s Grease co-star, in the role of Sally (which De Palma refused).