Blow Out (1981) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Blow Out is an intriguing noir thriller from Brian DePalma, in which a sound engineer accidentally records a traffic accident. His recording proves it was no accident, and that fact puts his life in danger because the dead man was a presidential hopeful.

It stars John Travolta in the only significant role of his first period of stardom (1977-1981) that didn't involve singing and/or dancing. During that era he also did Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and Urban Cowboy. Blow Out was the last successful film for Travolta until he joined the Pulp Fiction team 13 years later. Between Blow Out and Pulp Fiction (1982-1993), his highest rated movie was Look Who's Talking! (only 5.5 at IMDb). Four of his films from that era are rated in the 3's and 4's at IMDb: Perfect, Two of a Kind, Staying Alive, Look Who's Talking Too. Of course, Travolta also made awful movies, in fact made his two worst movies, during his two periods of stardom. He made Moment by Moment in his young, good-looking star period; and he made Battlefield Earth in his old, chubby star period. But he was able to recover from those disasters, while the 1982-1993 period was filled with so many failures that his star just kept dimming. Travolta fell so far from grace that his fee per film had dropped to $50,000 by 1994.

Blow Out is a good movie, although it has some fairly serious weaknesses. The mystery in the script may be a bit too complicated, and other people have noted some logic errors. Furthermore, there are too many cartoon characters, and the level of paranoia shown by the screenwriter makes Oliver Stone seem like a member of the Warren Commission. The film is partially a prisoner of its time, when it was considered a political thriller with a definite liberal P.O.V. That was an epoch with a different political climate, when government eavesdropping, spying, cover-ups and conspiracies were the flavor of the day. Today the film plays out better if you just let the paranoia wash over you, and enjoy the mano-a-mano aspects of it.


Amanda Cleveland shows her breasts twice in the film-within-a-film. First, in a sex scene seen at a distance through an open window, then in a better close-up in the shower.

Nancy Allen is seen with a nip-slip in a B&W photograph. This may or may not really be Ms Allen, but I've read nothing to make me doubt it.

Then why do I say it's a good movie? First of all, it's just plain fun to watch. In addition, DePalma showed off a lot of fancy and creative techniques which I enjoyed and admired. There are many overhead shots, including a seeming unfilmable helicopter shot of Travolta driving a car through some important government buildings and courtyards. I loved some of the scene transitions DePalma created in the editing room, and the way he played around with the suspense clichés. The tension in the individual scenes is excellent, especially the final scene in which Travolta chases the bad guy (John Lithgow) and the damsel in distress (Nancy Allen) through Philadelphia. In that scene Travolta has to follow them with his listening equipment, deducing their whereabouts from the sounds he hears. Although Allen is wired and knows it, she doesn't realize that she's with a bad guy, so does not provide any clues. Very clever stuff.

The best thing about this movie is the ending, which is one of the best I've ever seen. So many people don't know how to end a movie, but this one is sheer genius. Not only did DePalma avoid the usual Hollywood happy ending baloney, but he came up with one of the most heartbreaking things you can imagine, which is not only clever but perfectly logical in the movie's own terms. If the situation doesn't get you, the music will. You have to be pretty tough not to pass a tear or two when you see this one.

By the way, respected critic Pauline Kael pulled no punches and simply said, "It's a great movie".

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1, and a full screen version on the other side.

  • no features except a trailer


The original cinematographer was Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters, The Deer Hunter), who is one of the best. Two reels of the original footage were lost or stolen in the post-production period, and Zsigmond was unavailable, so the scenes had to be re-shot with a different cinematographer. DePalma managed to hire another Hungarian, Laszlo Kovacs (Five Easy Pieces, Marvin Gardens), who is also a brilliant cinematographer, and who also fled from Hungary in the aftermath of the 1956 revolution. Both the original and the substitute footage are excellent. Both of those fine Hungarian cinematographers are still active today. In 2000 Zsigmond did The Body, that Banderas-Jacobi movie about finding the body of Christ. (Poor movie, but the cinematography was fine.) In the same year, Kovacs did Miss Congeniality. 

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.9
  • With their dollars ... it was not successful at the box office.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-, both magnificently filmed, and clever. All of its positives more than compensate for some dated paranoia, and some silly elements in the script's treatment of the characters.

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