Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Blow Out (1981)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Blow Out (1981)

In this dark and twisty Brian De Palma (writer and director) political thriller - the Reagan-esque era, Hitchcockian-type film that paid homage to both Blow-Up (1966) and Coppola's The Conversation (1974). Its riveting themes were audio voyeurism, political dirty tricks, and corruption (with illusions to Watergate, the JFK Zapruder film, and the Chappaquiddick scandal):

  • it opened with a 'film within a film' - the shooting of Co-ed Frenzy - a cheap, low-budget exploitation film (set in a sorority house filled with scantily-clad females) where a killer (from his POV as in Halloween (1978)) stalked and slashed a nude female (Missy Cleveland, April 1979 Playboy Playmate) in a shower. [Note: It was a scene reminiscent of the early 1980s film Friday the 13th (1980) when other imitation slasher films were being spawned.]
  • Jack Terri (John Travolta), a sound F/X recorder-technician working on the low-budget exploitation film in the "Personal Effects" department, laughed and rated the undubbed death scream: "That scream is terrible." His director-producer Sam (Peter Boyden) asked: "What cat did you strangle to get that??" Jack replied: "That's her voice"; Jack was informed: "Look Jack, I didn't hire that girl for her scream. I hired that girl for her tits"; Jack considered the picture their "finest film" together, but was asked to replace the weak cry from the naked coed's lips, and also to find new wind sound effects
  • in fact, Jack took his sound-effects job seriously at Independence Pictures Inc. in Philadelphia where he had worked for two years - and was interested in capturing truth and reality in his recordings (weather effects, footsteps, heartbeats, clocks, glass breaks, gunshots, a body fall, etc.)
  • while Jack was recording outdoor sound-effects later that night with a directional baton-like microphone (and a portable reel-to-reel device), he witnessed a fatal car crash when a car's tire popped and screeched, and the vehicle plunged off a deserted Philadelphia road into a river; Jack dived in, swam down and rescued the driver's companion, later identified as a ditzy yet good-hearted blonde named Sally Bedina (Nancy Allen, director DePalma's real-life wife), but it was fatal for the driver who had drowned
  • at the hospital, Jack reported to disbelieving Detective Mackey (John Aquino) that he had first heard a "bang" before the tire blow out ("the bang was before the blow out"). Then, he learned that the deceased was notable Governor George McRyan (John Hoffmeister), a hopeful presidential candidate who, the evening of his death, had announced his entrance into the primary election; officials wanted to entirely hush the embarrassing fact that the Governor was with a female "playmate" companion, although Jack stressed that what he saw was "the truth" and he didn't want to lie about it
  • Jack went along with the deception and cover-up proposed by the governor's assistant Lawrence Henry (John McMartin) -- until he had second thoughts after listening to his recorded sounds tape he had made, in a participatory scene; the tape confirmed that the car's tire popped and screeched before it plunged off a deserted Philadelphia road in the fatal accidental crash
  • he realized that he had inadvertently recorded evidence of an assassination ("I think your tire was shot out"). Jack believed that the governor's left car tire was shot before the tire blew, causing the accident (he hypothesized there was a gunman in the bushes who had shot the left front tire to cause the crash, where a puff of smoke was seen - it was evidence of a conspiracy and cover-up
  • he became more suspicious when a photographer named Manny Karp (Dennis Franz) sold his "exclusive" series of still pictures (taken from his motion picture camera film) of the McRyan's accident to the press - appearing in a News Today article entitled "McRyan's Tragic Blow Out."
  • his faith in the authenticity of his film craft was reawakened. In his past (seen through flashback), the principled Jack had helped crack down on police corruption until one of his concealed wires short-circuited and caused undercover cop/detective Freddie Corso (Luddy Tramontana) to be found out and murdered during a botched sting. The tools of his F/X trade had failed him, leading to his choice to avoid the truth and make cheap exploitation films with phony sound effects. But now that he found himself caught up in some kind of political corruption, he convinced the rescued blonde Sally to join him to investigate the suspicious incident
  • Jack synchronized Karp's series of photographs with his own audio tape to create a film of the incident. He decisively pinpointed the moment of the gunshot - seen as a flash in the bushes. He hid the incriminating film in a ceiling panel in his office, believing it was evidence of a major political conspiracy. He then reported his findings to Detective Mackey, who was mostly uninterested, reflecting the times' political apathy: "Nobody wants to know. Nobody cares."
  • meanwhile, a serial killer-stalker named Burke (John Lithgow) was terrorizing the city, dubbed "The Liberty Bell Strangler"; Burke's first unfortunate sex-crime victim at an excavation site was a 22 year old receptionist (a Sally look-alike), strangled and then stabbed (and mutilated) with an ice-pick in the pattern of a Liberty Bell; a second victim was a prostitute strangled in a women's room at the train station
  • Burke had been hired as part of a political conspiracy to effectively eliminate Governor McRyan from the upcoming election; he had changed the tire on the vehicle, to make it look like a blow out; he also infiltrated sound guy Jack's office and erased the tapes to make Jack look like a "crackpot"; he then explained to his political operative that Sally's killing would eliminate loose ends when her death was attributed to the "Strangler": "I've decided to terminate her (Sally) and make it look like one of a series of sex killings in the area. This would completely secure our operation"
  • photographer Karp was Sally's pimp who had set her up to be with Governor McRyan the night of the 'accident' - he was paid $6,000 by one of McRyan's unidentified opponents (the original plan was to scandalize the governor by exposing him with a floozy - "he wasn't supposed to die")
  • Karp was doing "divorce work on the side," using prostitute Sally to set up and incriminate cheating husbands so they could be bribed for hush money (one of Karp's b/w photos showed an unsuspecting client caught in bed with Sally); Sally knocked Karp unconscious and stole Karp's original film reel of the car accident, to give to a TV investigative reporter named Frank Donahue (Curt May)
  • serial-killer Burke was a Bell Telephone repairman, who had wire-tapped Jack's phone and was able to circumvent all of Jack's efforts to present the truth and expose the conspiracy
  • the film's climactic, violent pursuit scene occurred during a surreal Liberty Day Jubilee 1981 centennial celebration in Philadelphia with red-white-blue-fireworks and a parade down Market Street; to cover all the bases, Jack had 'wired' Sally and vowed to her: "Nobody's gonna f--k me this time." She would be recorded as she met with Donahue to give him the tape and film
  • however, as Jack listened, he realized that Sally was speaking to Burke, who had intercepted her and was impersonating Donahue. After a car pursuit and frantic chase after Burke, across Philadelphia in his Jeep during the crowded festivities, Jack crashed and was injured. He didn't reach Sally in time before she was killed by strangulation, on the top of the Port of History building. Jack killed Burke by stabbing him with his ice-pick weapon, and was stunned to realize that Sally's lifeless body meant that she was truly dead

Sally's Death Scream Used on Re-edited Soundtrack of Slasher Film

Drowning Out Sound of Authentic Scream
  • ironically, Sally's recorded scream - haunting and sad - and intensely realistic, was used for the re-edited soundtrack of the shower scene in the cheap, exploitational slasher film seen in the film's opening (Producer Sam: "Now that's a scream!"). Jack muttered to himself: "It's a good scream," but he held his ears to drown out the sound

Shower Slashing With "Terrible" Scream

Cheap, Low-Budget "Film-Within-A-Film": Co-ed Frenzy

Sound Effects Technician Jack Terri (John Travolta) Recording Sounds of the Governor's Fatal Car Crash

Jack Listening to Tire Shooting and Blow-Out

Gunman in Bushes

One of Pimp/Photographer Karp's Incriminating Photos by of Sally (Nancy Allen) To Incriminate Cheating Husbands

Burke: The Liberty Bell Strangler

Murder of Sally by "Strangler"


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