19 April 2024

Nancy Allen was born in New York City on June 24, 1950. Although she originally wanted to be a dancer, having studied at the High School of Performing Arts, this daughter of a police officer soon took an interest in acting.

She moved to Los Angeles but work was scarce. Allen's first onscreen credit was in 1973's The Last Detail. 1975 saw her official film debut with a small part as a hitchhiker victim in an exploitation stalker flick that had the unfortunate title Forced Entry. (It was also the film debut of Tanya Roberts.)

In no time, Allen became disillusioned by her lack of success in Tinseltown and was prepared to go back to New York. Then an up-and-coming director changed her life. Brian De Palma gave Allen the plumb role of Chris Hargensen in Carrie (1976). She was the last to read for the movie.

Chris was slutty and petty .. a character with no basic redeeming quality. The girl whose elaborate prank on the title character leads to the death of almost the entire cast. With her blonde feathered hair and gum-chewing nonchalance, Allen was the ideal teenage villainess.

It was on this film that Allen and De Palma fell in love. Co-star John Travolta recalled, "I was the one who told Nancy that Brian had a crush on her. I said, 'I can tell when a man's in love. She said, 'You're crazy! He doesn't even like me!' We went through the whole shoot like that and then, at the end, she said, "You're right...he does like me.'"

It would be the first of four movies Allen would make with De Palma. However, right after Carrie, Allen starred in the delightful ode to Beatlemania, I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) and had a part in Steven Spielberg's gigantic 1979 misfire, 1941.

And then it was three in a row for Allen and her now husband De Palma, starting with the comedy Home Movies (also 1979). It didn't get much attention and the director returned to form with his homage to Hitchcock's PSYCHO. In the wiggy slasher Dressed To Kill, Allen played a sass mouthed hooker en flight from a razor wielding transvestite loony.

Blow Out teamed Allen once again with Travolta. She played a politician's mistress caught up in a terrible conspiracy. With these two back to back films, Allen brought a similar pizazz...a smart talking whip of a girl channelling 1940s film noir bad gals - but with a contemporary freshness all her own.

At the time, this partnership generated controversy. An Esquire Magazine article asked how De Palma could perpetuate such violence on his wife. Why display his wife nearly naked and so consistently? Why his wife and not some other actress? De Palma laughed and said, "I put her in a car roll in Carrie before I even knew her. She looked GOOD in Dressed To Kill. It worked in the movie."

The marriage didn't last and the couple divorced in 1983. According to mutual friends, it was ruined by all the negative press. But Allen continued to work, appearing as a hostess in the 1984 horror documentary Terror In the Aisles. The movie clips were great but the project was marred by the absurd gimmick of having an onscreen audience react to the scenes.

She scored her biggest box-office hit with 1987's sci-fi romp Robocop, which spawned two sequels. Working steadily through the eighties, she also appeared in Strange Invaders (1983) and Poltergeist III (1988).

With her work (and particularly her films with Brian De Palma) Allen brings a sexiness and vulnerability to the parts that makes her immediately sympathetic to the audience. It's always a blast to watch her in action.

Blow Out 1981
Carrie 1976
Dressed to Kill 1980
Forced Entry 1975
Poltergeist III 1988
Strange Invaders 1983
Terror in the Aisles 1984
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