APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Blow Out (1981)

April 26: American Giallo — Make the case for a movie that you believe is an American giallo.

Neo-noir. Hitchcock influenced. Mystery thriller.

Or just call it a giallo.

Blow Out is even based on an Italian film — Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup — but switches photography for audio recording and trades future giallo star David Hemmings for John Travolta, a man who follows the path of many a giallo hero. Once he believes that he has recorded the sounds of a killing, he must become a detective as his need to know is too much.

In post-production on the low-budget slasher film Co-ed Frenzy, sound technician Jack Terry (Travolta) is searching for better wind effects and the perfect scream. As he takes his equipment into a park late at night, he watches a car fly off the road and with no hesitation, dives into the water to save Sally Bedina (Nancy Allen). As he sits with her in the hospital, he asks her to get a drink and is asked by associates of the man killed in the car — Presidential candidate Governor George McRyan — to get her out of the hospital.

Sally has used her feminine wiles to ruin men before, working with Manny Karp (Dennis Franz), a man who just so happened to film the accident. Jack wants Sally to work with him to solve the murder, but he’s blinded to her because, well, she’s gorgeous and he’s the hero, a man who left behind a government commission to stop police corruption after an exposed wire caused the death of an undercover cop named Freddie Corso.

This is the kind of conspiracy where you think there is one because there is one. Sally and Karp were just pawns in the schemes of  Burke (John Lithgow), who wanted to go beyond just getting photos of the politician with a sex worker and blew out his tire with a bullet. But now that he’s ruined that, he has to clear up loose ends and is killing any hooker who looks like Sally as the Liberty Bell Strangler.

He eventually lures Sally to meet him and we learn that Jack is the hero, but not a perfect one. He’s able to stop Burke but not before Sally dies. All he has left of her is her final scream, recorded as he tried to find her, and that’s what lives forever, or as long as Co-Ed Frenzy plays grindhouses. He covers his ears because he’s reduced someone he grew close to into just another piece of sound in just another movie.

I literally yelled at the screen.

Working again with Travolta and Allen, De Palma also gathered others he’d made movies with before. In this, he is different than Argento — an artist I often compare him to, as they have so many similarities such as the same age, following Hitchcock, marrying and divorcing their leading lady, having a middle-age career decline — who seemingly switched up crews between films. Here he’s working with De Palma filled the film’s cast and crew with a number of his frequent collaborators: Dennis Franz (Dressed to Kill, Body Double), John Lithgow (who was in the Tenebre ripoff shot in Raising Cain) cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond (Obsession) and Lazlo Kovacs (who came in when the parade scene footage was lost), composer Pino Donaggio (who also scored modern giallo Nothing Underneath) and editor Paul Hirsch (who worked on another giallo-tinged De Palma film, Sisters).

Pauline Kael said that this movie was one “where genre is transcended and what we’re moved by is an artist’s vision…it’s a great movie. Travolta and Allen are radiant performers.” Roger Ebert said that it was “inhabited by a real cinematic intelligence.” It sits with Rio Bravo and Taxi Driver as Tarantino’s top three movies. And yet it failed with the public. Today, however, it’s seen in a much warmer light.

The opening where Travolta wanders out of the recording studio and into the film office is a joy, as you can see posters for Island of the Damned (one of the American titles for Who Can Kill a Child?), FantasexThe Food of the GodsSquirmEmpire of the AntsThe Other Side of JulieThe Incredible Melting ManBlood BeachWithout Warning and The Boogey Man.

I have no idea why I waited so long to watch this movie. It’s perfect — a film about making films, a movie where movies don’t play out like movies and a thrilling exploration of how De Palma can guide you through a film and into places you had no idea you would go.

One thought on “APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Blow Out (1981)

  1. It’s a masterpiece, DePalma’s best film, and an F-you to all his detractors who say that he’s nothing but a Hitchcock copycat. That ending just rips your heart out and stomps on it.


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