December 7, 2021
Blow Out (1981)
Grade: 50/100

Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow

What it's about. Travolta is a sound man for a minor movie studio. One night he takes his equipment for a walk though the city, to improve the studio's sound library. By coincident, he captures the sound of a car crash that kills an important politician. Travolta saves the life of a young woman also in the car (Nancy Allen).

Travolta is convinced that a gunshot caused the blowout that preceded the wreck. He tells people, including the law, but the only person who seems to care is a television reporter. Oddly, Travolta plays hard to get with the reporter, while ardently pursuing Allen, the woman he rescued. His motive is unclear, though, since he doesn't want to romance her. It seems he wants to prove that a murder took place, all by himself.

Meanwhile, John Lithgow emerges as a psychopath bent on killing Nancy Allen to keep her from talking to the police. Lithgow was hired by the bad men out to ruin the politician, but Lithgow also has his own agenda.

The film is clearly inspired by Blow Up (1966), an artsy but engrossing character study in which obsessive photographer David Hemmings believes he has inadvertently captured a murder during a photo shoot.

How others will see it. Blow-Out was a commercial dud upon release, but interest in the film has risen since Travolta's career revived with Pulp Fiction. Today, it is generally regarded as one of Brian De Palma's better movies.

At, it has a respectable 50K user votes and a very respectable 7.4 user rating. By comparison, Moment by Moment, Travolta's 1978 dud with Lily Tomlin, has only 1200 user votes and a user rating of 3.1 (out of 10).
The user reviews are mostly positive and praise director De Palma and John Travolta. The latter was still a big star in 1981, following Carrie, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and Urban Cowboy.

How I felt about it. Nancy Allen was married to the director, De Palma, during the film's production. Allen had also been in Carrie with Travolta. Despite the nepotism involved in her casting, Allen is good here. So is Travolta.

The problem is with the plot and characters. John Lithgow is a jack-of-all-trades, and able to accomplish almost anything. Murdering young women, the most sensational of all crimes, will draw interest from law enforcement and make it more difficult for him to kill Nancy Allen. And there is no need to kill her anyway. She is going to appear on television and admit to being a sweetheart swindler? Why not just wear a sign that says arrest me, I am a serial criminal.

And why is Lithgow so intent on killing Allen, but has no interest in killing Travolta. And do the police really believe that Allen stabbed Lithgow to death while she was getting strangled?

Dennis Franz's character also doesn't make sense. He can make a lot of money selling the film of the car crash. Wouldn't that make law enforcement suspicious that he had something to do with the crash? Wouldn't law enforcement soon learn of his previous activity with Nancy Allen? He could be charged with murder.

Nancy Allen hits Franz over the head with a beer bottle. Is he dead? He sure seems to be.

Travolta drives recklessly through a parade crowd, an act that could have killed two dozen people. If he really cared that much about Nancy Allen, he would have let her leave town. It's curious that his interest in her is unchanged after he learns she is in cahoots with Dennis Franz to ruin people's lives for profit.

Travolta's actions consistently get Nancy Allen into ever greater trouble. He is a sound man and not an investigator. He has no business pretending he can solve the murder of the leading Presidential candidate.

So, the story doesn't add up. Mostly, the film is lurid, a De Palma trademark but less fun in this case than was Carrie and The Fury. De Palma was lucky he landed Travolta in the lead. If it had been anyone else, the movie would be little remembered today.