John Travolta as Jack Terry, horror movie sound technician
Philadelphia, Fall 1980
Film: Blow Out
Release Date: July 24, 1981
Director: Brian De Palma
Costume Designer: Vicki Sánchez
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
My favorite Brian De Palma movie, Blow Out, culminates with a thrilling chase through the director’s hometown of Philadelphia during Liberty Day, a fictional jubilee celebrating 100 years since the last ring of the Liberty Bell.
Commissioned in 1752, the 2,000-pound bell made of copper and tin rang from the Pennsylvania State House for more than two decades before its perhaps most famous pronouncement, said to be among the many bells that rang through the City of Brotherly Love to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence… four days later, on July 8, 1776—247 years ago today.
Hidden for safekeeping during the American Revolution, then remounted for regular use through the first half of the 19th century, the Liberty Bell was likely last rung in February 1846 for George Washington’s birthday, a commemoration said to exacerbate the bell’s now-famous crack that rendered it “forever dumb” after that moment, as historian David Kimball rather rudely put it. (As this was the bell’s last-known usage, it’s clear that De Palma and company chose to extend the Liberty Bell’s initial life for another three or four decades in the Blow Out universe as the movie is clearly set in the “present day” of the early 1980s… and not 1946!)
Blow Out centers around sound technician Jack Terry (John Travolta), who uncovers evidence of a political assassination. Capturing ambient sound effects in the park one night, Jack is drawn to a car accident, where he manages to save the young escort Sally Bedina (Nancy Allen) from the wreckage while the driver, the current governor and presidential hopeful, dies. While listening to the audio footage, Jack hears a gunshot before the crash and realizes he has unintentionally stumbled into something far more sinister, declaring:
I know what I heard and what I saw, and I’m not gonna stop until everyone in this fuckin’ country hears and sees the same thing.
In the meantime, the sociopathic Burke (John Lithgow) who engineered the crash has began murdering women who look like Sally so that her eventual death will be attributed to a string of serial killings by “the Liberty Bell Strangler” and not connected to a dangerous political conspiracy.
As it turns out, the accident had also been filmed by blackmailer Manny Karp (Dennis Franz), whose footage syncs up perfectly with Jack’s audio to reveal the details of the assassination. After Sally takes the film for a purported meeting with a local newscaster to break the story, a reasonably suspicious Jack follows her only to find that she was being lured by the murderous Burke. He takes chase in his blue Jeep Renegade, unintentionally crashing it into Wanamaker’s “Liberty or Death” display window during the Liberty Day parade.
Will Jack recover in time to stop Burke, save Sally, and uncover the conspiracy? You’ll just have to watch Blow Out to find out!
What’d He Wear?
Set in the Cradle of Liberty, Blue Out features plenty of patriotic imagery, from the pomp and circumstance of the Liberty Day festivities to Jack Terry’s wardrobe and surroundings, completed by the image he creates when—clad in a red shirt and blue jacket—he leaps into his white-topped blue Jeep.
Jack exclusively wears red and blue long-sleeved shirts that follow a workshirt-inspired design, with a point collar, front placket, button cuffs, and two chest pockets with mitred-corner flaps that each close through a single button. Jack’s red shirt is made from a medium-weight cotton flannel, brushed to a soft chamois-like finish.
Jack debuts the red flannel work shirt under an olive-brown mid-wale corduroy sports coat with dark charcoal flat-front trousers. Though likely made in the late ’70s given the production timeframe, the jacket design follows a more timeless style than that decade’s then-trendy excesses, with notch lapels of moderate width that roll to a two-button front. The jacket also has a single vent, welted breast pocket, and flapped patch pockets over the hips.
When he’s working, Jack favors the utility of field jackets with their heavy-duty multitude of pockets. He was wearing a khaki M-65 field jacket on the night of Sally’s crash with the governor, swapping out for a similarly styled dark-blue field jacket for the rest of the movie, including the climactic Liberty Day chase.
Also known as the M-1965 field jacket in reference to the year it was authorized for cold-weather service by the U.S. armed forces, the four-pocket M-65 features a zip-up front, cinched waist, and rounded collar that houses an integrated hood. The MIL-C-43455J standard stipulates a windproof, water-repellent shell, originally made of a tightly woven, weather-treated 100% cotton that evolved to a less-expensive sateen blend of cotton and synthetic fabric.
The thigh-length jacket closes with a brass zipper that extends straight up from the waist to the neck, covered by a storm flap reinforced with snaps. Consistent with its martial origins, the shoulders are detailed with straps (epaulets) where a service-member could wear rank insignia. The two bellows pockets on the chest and two large set-in pockets on the hips are all covered by pointed flaps that have covered snaps. The waist cinches closed with an internal drawstring, and the set-in sleeves are finished with short pointed half-tabs with velcro pads to adjust the fit over each wrist.
Government contractors produced the M-65 for military usage in olive green (OG-107) and camouflage color schemes, though their eventual popularity among civilians led to M-65 field jackets being produced in arrays of other colors—often black, khaki, and navy-blue, as sported by John Travolta in Blow Out. (You can find your own commercial blue Rothco M-65 field jacket from Amazon.)
With the blue field jacket during the Liberty Day finale, Jack wears rust-brown needlecord jeans from Levi’s, detailed with the white tab sewn along the seam of the right back pocket. As opposed to their traditional red tab or fashion-forward orange tabs, white tabs were used by Levi’s through the 1960s and ’70s on their corduroy products. These flat-front casual trousers are otherwise styled like conventional jeans with belt loops and the recognizable five-pocket layout of two patch-style back pockets, two curved-entry front pockets, and an inset watch pocket on the right side.
Jack’s wide dark brown leather belt closes through a brass squared single-prong buckle.
Jack relies on hardy footwear for work that keeps him on his feet in different environments, sporting a pair of dark brown leather ankle boots, derby-laced through five gold-finished eyelets and worn with dark socks.
His fondness for V-neck undershirts allows Jack to wear the top few buttons of his shirts undone without showing the top of an undershirt, unlike what would happen if he wore crew-neck T-shirts instead.
On the inside of his left wrist, Jack wears a steel digital watch on a khaki ribbed nylon NATO strap. The watch’s matte steel case shows considerable wear, detailed with four small pushers—two on each side—and a black LCD display panel. This style of watch was growing in popularity through the later years of the “quartz revolution”, from late 1970s into the ’80s, thanks to watchmakers like Casio, Seiko, and Timex, though even the likes of Hamilton and Omega offered their own digital wristwatches at the time.
I’m not expert enough to definitively identify Jack’s watch, though the ridge across the top of the case (above the display) reminds me of some Ricoh watches from the era.
Regardless of who made Jack’s timepiece, they failed to include a wire garrote like on Burke’s Red Grant-style watch.
What to Imbibe
At home, Jack takes the edge of with a dram of J&B Rare, the almost-ubiquitous blended Scotch whisky that would get some prominent screen-time the following year in The Thing (1982).
We also later see him watching TV with a Modelo Especial beer, freshly opened as indicated by the foam rising to the top of the bottle neck. This 4.4% ABV pilsner-style lager was first bottled in 1925, the same year that its parent company Grupo Modelo was founded in Mexico City. As of June 2023, Modelo Especial rose from being a top imported beer to beating out domestic brands to become the best-selling beer in the United States.
Jack drives a 1981 Jeep CJ-7 Renegade, painted “Montana blue” (code 1A) with a white roof. This model dates back to the 1940s, when Willys-Overland introduced the CJ (“Civilian Jeep”) series toward the end of World War II, aimed at rural drivers whose usage would echo the purposes that Jeeps served the military. The CJ continued to evolved through the 20th century, including after Willys was purchased by Kaiser Manufacturing Company in 1953 and thus eventually dropped “Willys” from the name.
The last generation debuted in 1976 as the Jeep CJ-7, with four-, six-, and eight-cylinder options available, and an automatic transmission available for the first time in the CJ series history. The sporty Renegade trim package was offered through all ten years of the CJ-7’s production timeline, including the 1981 model that appears in Blow Out.
Jeep discontinued the CJ series after the 1986 CJ-7, with the last models commemorated by a dash plaque that reads “Last of a Great Breed – This collectors-edition CJ ends an era that began with the legendary Jeep of World War II”. The model would be reconfigured and rebranded as the Wrangler, which debuted in 1987 under Chrysler’s new ownership of the marque and remains in production today.
How to Get the Look
Jack Terry dresses practically for his work as a sound technician (and unofficial assassination conspiracy investigator), with ample pockets provided by his work shirts and field jackets, dressed up with the occasional corded sports coat.
- Red brushed cotton flannel long-sleeved work shirt with point collar, front placket, two flapped chest pockets, and button cuffs
- Olive-brown medium-wale corduroy single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped patch hip pockets, and single vent
- Navy-blue cotton M-65 field jacket with straight-zip/snap-closed storm flap front, rounded collar with zipped-in hood, epaulets (shoulder straps), bellows chest pockets with covered-snap flaps, set-in hip pockets with covered-snap flaps, internal waist-cinching drawstring, and set-in sleeves with velcro-adjusted half-tab cuffs
- Rust-brown needlecord flat-front jeans with belt loops and five-pocket layout
- Dark brown leather belt with brass-finished square single-prong buckle
- Dark brown leather derby-laced ankle boots
- Dark socks
- White cotton V-neck short-sleeved undershirt
- Steel quartz-powered digital watch on khaki vinyl NATO strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.