Created by Richard Salvatore, with Jay Brandon
“Whoever named it the City of Angels had a terrific sense of humor.”
Carson Phillips on L.A.
The 1970s were a great decade for private eye films, easily rivaling the 1930s if you ask me. Not only did the “Me Decade” give us Chinatown, arguably the greatest and most celebrated P.I. film of all time (Huston’s The Maltese Falcon is its only serious rival), but it also gave us The Conversation, Klute, Shaft, The Long Goodbye, The Big Fix, Farewell, My Lovely, Night Moves, The Drowning Pool and The Late Show.
So if you loved the P.I. films from that decade, you may get a kick out of — or at least figure out where they ripped off many of the ideas for– The Poison Rose, a 2019 VOD flick starring John Travolta (Blame the seventies for him, too).
The screenplay by Travolta buddy Richard Salvatore is based on the self-published novel he wrote with Jay Brandon, and centers around CARSON PHILLIPS (Travolta), a former Texas college football star turned struggling, grizzled Los Angeles private investigator (Night Moves?) with a gambling jones, in hock to a local bookie for fifty grand. Carson’s summoned back to his home town of Galveston, Texas by a mysterious client to search for a missing relative — an elderly woman who’s allegedly a patient at a local sanitarium (Farewell, My Lovely?). He’s reluctant at first, since he left town in disgrace twenty years earlier, after a football career-ending point-shaving scandal, but soon enough, he’s knocking on doors, and hooking up with old pals.
Further complications abound, of course, including a few right out of the Ross Macdonald playbook (Is that seventies enough for ya?). One of the old pals Carson hooks up with is former high school sweetie Jayne Hunt (Famke Janssen), the gal he left behind when he left Texas. Naturally, she needs Carson’s help, too. Her Becky is the prime suspect in the death of her husband, college football star Happy Chandler, who took a nasty hit on the field and never got up. An autopsy soon reveals that Happy was pumped to the gills with speed, meth, and other drugs.
And just to stir the stew, Jayne happens to be the widow of a Galveston oil baron who was Carson’s rival back in the day, while another of Carson’s old friends is Doc, now a wealthy and and powerful businessman (Morgan Freeman, channeling Chinatown’s Noah Cross), who’d rather Carson just went home, possibly because Happy was apparently boinking Doc’s nightclub singer daughter Rose (the “rose” of the title). Carson, of course, continues poking around and eventually uncovers a possible cancer-causing groundwater contamination (Somebody caring about the planet? No wonder it had to be set in 1978), a rampant medical billing conspiracy, and a slew of sanitarium patients who seem to have disappeared. And, of course, lots of warnings from various sources urging him to stop all that poking around.
Of course, it’s not 1978, so we get way more profanity, guns, violence and cigarette smoking (was one of the sponsors a tobacco company?) than we really need, but we also get a pretty promising cast: besides Morgan Freeman and Famke Janssen, we get other ace performers like Brendan Fraser, Peter Stormare and Robert Patrick.
And, um… Travolta’s daughter.
As one IMDB wag put it, “With that much star power, this movie should have been excellent. Unfortunately, it’s not.”
But while it’s nowhere near the lofty heights of some of those 70s flicks listed above, it is a solid and entertaining P.I. film, far better than I expected. It goes to show you never can tell…
- “This is more or less DIPSHIT CHINATOWN, with the period detail primarily limited to the cars and people smoking indoors, with no real point to it taking place in 1978.”
— Good Efficient Butchery (May 2019)
- THE POISON ROSE | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now!
(2019, JTP Films/March On Productions/Millennium Media/Poison Rose Productions)
Tagline: A private eye. A public murder. A perfect crime.
Based on the novel by Richard Salvatore, with Jay Brandon
Screenplay by Richard Salvatore and George Gallo
Directed by George Gallo
Starring John Travolta as CARSON PHILLIPS
Also starring Morgan Freeman, Brendan Fraser, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Robert Patrick, Ella Bleu Travolta, Kat Graham, Blerim Destani, Julie Lott, Nick Vallelonga, Devin Ellery, Chris Mullinax, Melissa Greenspan, Sheila Shah, Nadine Lewington, Ashley Atwood, Anson Downes, Bill Luckett.