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Peter’s Retro Reviews: Blow Out (1981)

Blow Out Posterby Peter Nielsen

With this week’s movie-pick I, once again, find myself returning to the world of Brian De Palma. That’s not surprising though, considering the fact that he’s a great director who’s given us such gems as Dressed To Kill, Scarface, The Untouchables, Carrie, Carlito’s Way and a personal favorite of mine, Phantom of the Paradise. The comedy Wise Guys wasn’t too bad either! I’ve already reviewed two of his movies here on the site… The Fury and Body Double and thought it was time for one more.

I have seen Blow Out once or twice before, but it has been a while since the last time. A long while! I remember liking it a lot and was hoping that it would still hold up after all these years and if you’ll just bear with me for a moment or two, I’ll tell you if it did.

Making a short film.

Making a short film.

Jack Terry is a sound effects guy working on mostly low budget horror and slasher type movies. At the start of the movie we see parts of his latest endeavor and some of the effects aren’t really up to par. In order to fix this he goes to a nearby park one evening to record new sounds, like wind rustling in the trees, different animal sounds and such. While there he suddenly hears screeching car tires and he spots a car speeding along a narrow road. A loud bang is heard and the car swerves of the road and plunges into the adjacent creek. Apparently one of the tires blew out causing the accident. Jack dives in, in an attempt to save the people caught in the sinking car. Unfortunately the man in it is already dead, but Jack manages to pull the panic-stricken woman out to safety.

Later, at the hospital, he learns that the dead man was the governor, but not only that… he was also a candidate to be the next president. Jack is told to keep his mouth shut about there being a woman in the car with him because that would be hurtful for the governor’s family. He agrees and goes to check on her before he leaves the hospital. Her name is Sally and since she doesn’t want to stay there by herself, they both leave.

Manny Karp and Sally

Manny Karp and Sally

Jack and Sally are played by John Travolta and Nancy Allen who both do an excellent job in Blow Out. Mr. Travolta you will of course recognize from The General’s Daughter, Get Shorty or Saturday Night Fever for instance, and Ms. Allen from The Philadelphia Experiment or RoboCop, both of which have been covered here on the site. I read somewhere that John Travolta suffered from insomnia during the shoot, which is why he appears to be so moody and tired. How much truth there is to this, I don’t know, but he does look more and more exhausted as the movie progresses!

The beautiful Nancy Allen is great as Sally, who might not be as innocent as she looks or first makes Jack believe that she is.

Cutting out film stills.

Cutting out film stills.

What leads Jack to suspect foul play is that when he plays back his audio recording of the accident, he can hear what sounds like a gun-shot right before the tire blows out. And when a tabloid paper publishes stills from a film of the accident, he uses them to make a short film of his own, splicing it together with his audio recording. This makes him even more certain that this accident might actually be an outright assassination of the governor. The original film, to which the stills belong, was shot by a man named Manny Karp, who just happened to be present when the car went into the creek. Coincidence? Hmm… I think not!

Manny Karp is played by Dennis Franz, whom you might know as Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue among other titles and has appeared in several movies directed by Brian De Palma.

John Lithgow being deliciously creepy!

John Lithgow being deliciously creepy!

I don’t want to say too much about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, in case you haven’t seen it yet. I have to mention John Lithgow’s character, Burke, though. You will, I think, recognize Mr. Lithgow from The World According to Garp, Raising Cain or the popular TV comedy show 3rd Rock from the Sun where he played Dr. Dick Solomon. In Blow Out he’s absolutely terrifying and creepy as hell, as a psychotic serial killer/government assassin who starts killing off local prostitutes who bears a chilling resemblance to Sally. Is he perhaps tying up loose ends?

JAAAAAACK!!

JAAAAAACK!!

Blow Out is a typical Brian De Palma style thriller with his use of split-screens and great cinematography which gives it a gritty and realistic look. In this one he also make use of a “split-focus diopter” to great effect. And now I can hear you say: “A split-focus diopter? What the hell is that?” Well, it’s kind of a half convex glass that is attached to the front of the camera’s main lens to make half the lens nearsighted, so to speak. It makes it possible to keep both the foreground image and background in focus at the same time and was used pretty frequently during the 70’s. It looks great, although a little bit off, since it’s not something the human eye can normally do.

So..? Did Blow Out hold up this time around? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it did indeed! I love this movie, even more so now, than I did the first and last time I watched it. As I mentioned before, it’s got a great cast and is a taut gripping thriller that will actually stay with you for a while, even after it’s over. The ending is one I both love and hate at the same time, but that’s not meant as criticism. It’s one hell of an ending and fits the movie perfectly.

Blow Out is definitely a movie I recommend you to check out if you haven’t seen it before.  Not just for the sake of the movie, but also to get a tiny glimpse of the makings of sound effects in the 70’s and 80’s. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

So, my friends, that’s it for me this week! I’ll see you next time! Until then…

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About Peter Nielsen

Peter was born in Denmark in 1968, but moved to Sweden at the age of six, (not by
himself of course), and has lived there ever since. He’s married and has five children,
so spare time is somewhat of a luxury. His main interests in life, apart from his family,
are long walks, books and movies. Any movie! He has preferences, but he’s not
particular as long as it’s good or… so bad it’s good… he just LOVES MOVIES!