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Blow Out (1981)

The word stylish rules the day when viewing this Brian De Palma film featuring John Travolta in the leading role as a sound man working the low budget film industry who gets caught up in an energetic conspiracy theory ripe with murder, blackmail schemes and John Lithgow.

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This is the type of movie that one can sit in on and either praise the hell out of it for it’s stylish (word of the day) use of the camera or maybe even tear it apart for it’s over abundance of Hitchcockian flare and whatever else you can come up with. Me, I just enjoy the heck out of it though I do admit to wishing it would have went towards a more conventional fade out towards the climax.

Setting up the main thrust of the plot, we the viewers are invited into the backstage world of a sound editor. Really a cool backdrop to the plot and I must admit to being caught up in the process of just how it’s done circa 1982. Thank you Mr. De Palma for allowing us a behind the scenes peek at the process of integrating sound into a low budget horror film and of course the main piece of evidence that Travolta seeks in the film. It’s while recording some late night sounds in a truly imaginative scene framed by the director that Travolta’s life will take a chaotic turn.

Along a road running parallel to a river where Travolta is recording, a car experiences a blown tire, subsequently crashing though a barrier and into a river. John immediately dives in and pulls a woman to safety. Fast forward to the hospital where the media is in a frenzy. Travolta soon realizes that the man he couldn’t save from the watery depths was the state governor and the woman he pulled from the car played by Karen Allen was in all likelihood a prostitute.

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Travolta is coaxed by the political machine to forget the entire incident. He and a heavily drugged Allen leave the hospital together. It’s at this point that the inquisitive Johnny begins to look hard at the situation and the possibility of a cover up after playing back the tape of his nighttime sound recording. He’s positive he can hear a gunshot a millisecond before the tire’s “blow out” on the reel to reel tape.

When a film surfaces of the car crashing through the guard railing, and it’s publication, frame by frame, Travolta smartly pieces it together to create his film of the incident and time it with his as of yet, unreported recording. Now he’s sure there’s been a cover up and he along with Allen have to figure out who to trust and where best to unveil the film.

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Into the film comes a very Giallo like parallel story of John Lithgow who is an obvious serial killer. Serial killer he may be yet he consciously intends to put the city on alert for just such a killer so he can tie up all the loose ends for the political machine he works for that have set the “blow out” in motion. Lithgow is once again at the top of his game and his scenes with the unsuspecting Allen as the finale approaches are a high point of the film.

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I won’t be surprised if readers here are not a fan of the film and though I’ve pointed out I’d go a different route and would love to rewrite a good portion of the ending, there’s just way too much here to like. The positives far outweigh any negatives you can throw at me. De Palma’s stylish look is a feast for the eyes. Then there’s also the added bonus of Dennis Franz as a slimy lowlife photographer in the blackmail game. I miss this guy who seems to have disappeared from movies and television.

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Leading lady Allen had already worked for the director along with Travolta in the now classic Stephen King story, Carrie for the theater going crowds of 1976 and she also appeared in both Home Movies and Dressed to Kill under De Palma’s guidance.  Not surprisingly, there is plenty of trivia available for this title at IMDB. My favorite tidbit is where it points out that Gerard Depardieu apparently dubbed Travolta for the French version of the film.

If you haven’t seen this one, it shouldn’t be too tough to locate. I’ve got both the DVD version and the more recent blu ray edition from Arrow Video which is quickly becoming one of my favorite releasing companies since securing that all region blu ray player.

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14 Comments »

  1. Heh. This review is stylish if only for the use of that word so many times it becomes stylish, lol. OK, I kid! I’m a fan of De Palma’s early to 80’s output, so it’s nice to read posts that focus on the things that make his work… um, work.

      • Also known as Dubble Bubble… er, after the gum, of course, lol. I loe all those flicks and still think Sisters is one of the better 70’s horror flicks especially with that crazy Bernard Herrmann score blasting you back in your seat from the beginning and that great cast doing their thing.

  2. I remember watching ‘Blow-Up’ many years ago and not liking it at all, and when I heard that ‘Blow Out’ was a remake, I passed on it (although with Nancy Allen involved, I’m surprised I didn’t see it at my dollar theater back when it was first released). After reading your review (but skipping the plot description), I think I’ll track it down and give it a go…my library doesn’t have it, so I’ll have to find it elsewhere. A used DVD at Zia Records, perhaps!

    • I never liked Blow Up that much either. Too arty for me and kind of boring. I guess this flick borrows the main idea but not much more the way I recall it. I’ll have to hit Zia Records should I make it out your way.

      • Don’t go without me…there are several Zia stores in the area to check out, and I’ve got a long list of titles to look for! And yes, ‘arty and boring’…the perfect tag line for the ‘Blow-Up’ poster.

  3. I love and adore this movie too. I think it was the first De Palma movie I saw (although logic tells me Carrie must have been earlier for me) and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. It was also the first movie I saw that persuaded me John Travolta could act. And, as you point out, John Lithgow is always a joy.

    • Funny about Travolta. Never watched Kotter as a kid and his early movies were for the ladies so by the time I hit my teens, he was far from an actor I paid much attention to though that was would change with this and other films since. Love me some Lithgow.

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