Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Big Sleep (1946)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

After demonstrating his competence as a private detective, Marlowe has Vivian take Carmen home. As she departs, Carmen strikes Brody in the face with her hand-bag.

Brody explains how he "put the B" (blackmailed) on Mrs. Rutledge and not on General Sternwood because the "old man" had already been pressed for $5,000 months earlier in another blackmail scheme. [Note: Sternwood said it was "about a year ago."] Brody assumed Mrs. Rutledge wouldn't tell her father about new ransom demands because of her own dirty dealings with Eddie Mars:

Well, I tapped the old man once six or seven months ago. I figured it might not work twice...Well, she gets around. I figured she might have a thing or two she wouldn't want the old man to know.

It is clear that Agnes is very perturbed with Brody for fouling up the blackmail scheme against Vivian, costing her money. She crassly calls him a "half-smart guy" - the most recent loser she has happened to associate herself with (using a metaphoric, horse-racing analogy that is frequently evoked in the film):

Agnes: That's what I always draw. Never once a man who's smart all the way around the course. Never once.

Marlowe asks Agnes about her bruised arm when he grabbed her gun as Carmen entered: "Did I hurt you much, sugar?" Agnes bitterly replies: "You and every other man I've ever met." Marlowe persists - he presses Brody about where he got the picture(s) or film taken the night of Geiger's murder:

Brody: (sarcastically) It fell out of somebody's pocket.
Marlowe: You got an alibi for last night?
Brody: I was right here, with Agnes.
Agnes: Huh!
Marlowe: That's a great witness. OK, Joe, you can only die once even for a couple of murders.
Brody: Wait a minute. What do you mean - a couple of murders?
Marlowe: I mean two murders. [Geiger's and Taylor's murders.] Where were you about seven thirty last night?...
Brody: All right, I was watching Geiger's get something on him.
Marlowe: Try looking at me while you're talking.
Brody: Well, it was raining hard, and I was sitting in my car. There was a car parked out front [Geiger's car] and another part way down the hill [Carmen's car]. I was in back.
Marlowe: Who else was back there?
Brody: Nobody. There was a big Packard [Owen Taylor's car] near where I was so I took a look at it and it was registered to the Sternwoods...Well, then nothing happens so I got tired of waiting and I went home.
Marlowe: Hmm, hmm. You know where that Packard is now?...It's in the Sheriff's garage. It was fished out of twelve feet of water off Lido pier early this morning. There was a dead man in it. He'd been sapped [knocked out with a blackjack]. The car was pointed toward the end of the pier and the hand throttle pulled out.
Brody: Why, you can't pin that on me.
Marlowe: I could make an awful good try...You see, the dead man was Owen Taylor, Sternwood's chauffeur. He went up to Geiger's place 'cause he was sweet on Carmen. He didn't like the kind of games Geiger was playing. He got himself in the back way with a jimmy and he had a gun. And the gun went off as guns will, and Geiger fell down dead. Owen ran away taking the film with him. You went after him and got it - how else would you get it?
Brody: All right, you're right. I heard the shots and saw him run down the back steps and into the Packard and away. I followed him. He turned west on Sunset and beyond Beverly he, uh, skidded off the road, and uh, came to a stop. So I came up and played copper. He had a gun, he was rattled, so I sapped him down. I figured the film might be worth something so I took it. That's the last I saw of him.
Marlowe: So you left an unconscious man in a car way out near Beverly someplace and you want me to believe that somebody conveniently came along, ran that car all the way down to the ocean, pushed it off the pier, and then came back and hid Geiger's body.
Brody: Well, I didn't.
Marlowe: Somebody did. You wanted time to take over.
Brody: You can't prove I did it.
Marlowe: I don't particularly want to. All I want to do is find out what Geiger had on the Sternwoods.
Brody: Well, uh, maybe you and I can make a little deal?

[Note: Now, Marlowe has finally forced Brody to admit that he was watching the back of Geiger's place in a station wagon the night of Geiger's death, pursued Taylor's Packard after the gunshots, and acquired the film when he caught up to him. But Marlowe is unable to get Brody to admit that he throttled and killed Taylor with a blackjack, and then ran Taylor's car off the Lido pier to make it look like an accidental drowning.]

Before anything more is revealed, another murder is committed.

(3) Joe Brody is killed by an unknown gunman at his door when he answers it.

[Note: Brody's killer is Geiger's homosexual boyfriend/lover, valet, and "shadow" henchman Carol Lundgren, who came to believe and suspect that Brody was Geiger's murderer. He probably knew that Brody had left Geiger's place in a great hurry, and so had Owen Taylor. Of course, Lundgren's assumption was incorrect. Taylor had killed Geiger.]

(It was highly likely that Lundgren had joined Geiger in his home after helping him to his car at the store, but this was entirely unclear.) Another possible reason for Brody's killing is that Mars, who had by now learned of Brody's take-over ambitions, wanted to squash the competition and had hired Lundgren to assassinate him.]

Marlowe pursues Brody's killer in his car, captures the alleged killer Carol Lundgren on the street, and disarms him of his murder weapon:

Oh, and by the way, Carol, you shot the wrong guy. Brody didn't kill Geiger.

The detective forces Lundgren to drive to Geiger's house (Marlowe: "You got a key. Let's go in." Lundgren: "Who said I got a key?"). After a brief scuffle, Marlowe knocks Lundgren out with a swift kick to his head, removes his house key from his jacket, opens Geiger's front door, and drags the killer inside. After tying him up, Marlowe finds Geiger's body ceremoniously laid out on his bed in the back bedroom - probably placed there earlier by Lundgren. By phone, Marlowe contacts police detective Bernie Ohls and subsequently has Lundgren arrested and turned over to the authorities, and also notifies them of the location of Geiger's corpse:

Marlowe: I've got some cold meats set out that might interest ya.
Ohls: What are ya talkin' about?
Marlowe: Did you boys find a gun on Owen Taylor when they fished him out of the drink last night?...If they did, it had three empty shells in it...You come up to 7244 Laverne Terrace off Laurel Canyon Road and I'll show you where the slugs went.

The police charge Lundgren with the murder of Joe Brody. At this point in the film (about halfway through), the case appears closed. The two blackmailers, Geiger and Brody are dead. Geiger's actual murderer, Owen Taylor, who wished to save Carmen, is also dead. And Brody's killer (Geiger's "shadow" or boyfriend - Carol Lundgren) is in jail. And Carmen has been saved further humiliation by being spared from any more publicity.

The next afternoon, Vivian, wearing a shiny, slick jacket, enters a crowded bar-restaurant while the piano bar plays: "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan." She meets Marlowe at the bar, and they are seated at a table where they order scotches. As a prologue to their sultry chat, they start up again:

Marlowe: How did you happen to pick out this place?
Vivian: Maybe I wanted to hold your hand.
Marlowe: Oh, that can be arranged.

She tries to pay him off with a check for $500 dollars for a job well done (he "managed to keep the Sternwoods out of it"). She attempts to take him off the case - but Marlowe doesn't consider "the case closed."

They engage in a famous, slyly flirtatious, sexy horse-race conversation. At one point, she rates him as a potential lover, using a horse analogy to talk in a veiled way about her feelings toward men and sexual intercourse. The dialogue is a classic of sharp-edged wit, double entendre and sexual innuendo, communicating their real feelings for each other in race-track and poker-game terms with outrageously-suggestive and metaphorical language:

Vivian: Tell me: What do you usually do when you're not working?
Marlowe: Oh, play the horses, fool around.
Vivian: No women?
Marlowe: I'm generally working on something, most of the time.
Vivian: Could that be stretched to include me?
Marlowe: Well I like you. I've told you that before.
Vivian: I like hearing you say it. But you didn't do much about it.
Marlowe: Well, neither did you.
Vivian: Well, speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first, see if they're front-runners or come from behind, find out what their whole card is. What makes them run.
Marlowe: Find out mine?
Vivian: I think so.
Marlowe: Go ahead.
Vivian: I'd say you don't like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.
Marlowe: You don't like to be rated yourself.
Vivian: I haven't met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?
Marlowe: Well, I can't tell till I've seen you over a distance of ground. You've got a touch of class, but, uh...I don't know how - how far you can go.
Vivian: A lot depends on who's in the saddle. Go ahead Marlowe, I like the way you work. In case you don't know it, you're doing all right.
Marlowe: There's one thing I can't figure out.
Vivian: What makes me run?
Marlowe: Uh-huh.
Vivian: I'll give you a little hint. Sugar won't work. It's been tried.

Marlowe is still interested in the connection between Eddie Mars (Geiger's landlord), Sean Regan and the Sternwoods. He wonders why the case is being closed prematurely, and he is being 'sugar-ed' off:

What did you try it on me for? Who told you to sugar me off this case? Was it Eddie Mars? All right, don't answer me, but somebody put you up to it and it wasn't your father. He didn't tell you to pay me off, did he?

Vivian admits that she used her own judgment to pay him off. The investigator is suspicious of Eddie Mars and the spreading web of corruption. Knowing that she is in collusion with Mars, Marlowe asks the openly nervous and shaking Vivian about her "hole-card":

Marlowe: What's Eddie Mars got to do with this case?
Vivian: Nothing. He runs a gambling house. I play horses. I play the wheel.
Marlowe: Playing something else too...Never mind talking. Let me do it. Do you know it was Eddie Mars' blonde wife Sean Regan was supposed to run off with?
Vivian: Who doesn't?
Marlowe: Did you know he [Mars] owned the house Geiger operated in and he was mixed up in that racket too?
Vivian: No, I don't believe it.
Marlowe: Then why does it bother you so much? What's Eddie Mars got on you? Oh come now, angel, stop shaking. I don't want to hurt you. I'm trying to help you. Well, you'd better run along, 'cause you made a deal and you're gonna stick to it, right or wrong. We'll take up the question of you and I when the race is over. The only trouble is, we could've...
Vivian: Yes, the only trouble is, we could have had a lot of fun if you weren't a detective.
Marlowe: We still can.
Vivian: So long, Marlowe.

Marlowe ignores Vivian's earlier suggestion to drop the case, and is unwilling to be bought (or 'sugared') off.

[Note: Vivian is apprehensive that Marlowe will dig deeper and find another subversive blackmail scheme involving her sister. Vivian has been protective of Carmen's guilty secret - the murder of Sean Regan, the missing chauffeur. The 'real' blackmailer that rich General Sternwood needs to eliminate is not Geiger or Brody (now both dead anyway) but racketeer Mars, who is behind the blackmailing of both sisters - he knows that Carmen killed Regan and is using that knowledge against Vivian.]

Marlowe phones Mars' casino to plan a visit to the plush gaming club that evening and set up an appointment with the racketeer. Upon his arrival, one of the pert Playboy bunny-type hatcheck girls (Lorraine Miller) catches his eye as she leaves to notify Mars that Marlowe is there. He discovers that Vivian is a frequent patron and gambler there. She is provocatively singing a sexy sing-along-song with other patrons: "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" in one of the rooms off the lobby. After Vivian gives an approving up and down look at his perky brunette escort from across the room, Marlowe is taken to Mars' inner sanctum. There, he asks some direct questions about Sean Regan's whereabouts. Mars wants Marlowe to believe the whole blackmail issue has been put to rest with the deaths of Geiger and Brody:

Marlowe: I want some information - about Sean Regan.
Mars: (His profile matches the dog picture on the wall.) I heard you got that already from the Bureau of Missing Persons.
Marlowe: You get around.
Mars: My boys do.
Marlowe: Where is he?
Mars: I haven't any idea.
Marlowe: You didn't bump him off, did ya?
Mars: No. You think I did?
Marlowe: Well, that's what I came up here to ask ya.
Mars: You're kidding.
Marlowe: All right. I'm kidding. You didn't do it yourself and none of your boys are good enough to do it. I used to know Regan.
Mars: I thought you told me you weren't looking for Regan?
Marlowe: I wasn't then. Maybe I just got curious. You see, I finally got it through my thick skull that half the General's worries were that Regan might be mixed up in this blackmail business.
Mars: Well, Sternwood can turn over now and go back to sleep. It was Geiger's own racket. I did some inquiring myself today. When Geiger and Brody got gunned, that washed the whole thing up - that, I'm sure of it.
Marlowe: It's finished then.

To bolster up Vivian's false claim about "gambling debts" to Mars rather than other seamier kinds of obligations, the casino owner tells Marlowe that Vivian is a poor gambler who accumulates IOU's:

Mars: She's not very popular around here. When she loses, she doubles, and I wind up with a fistful of paper. If she wins, she takes my money home with her.
Marlowe: You get it back next time, don't you?
Mars: She'll spend it somewhere else by then.
Marlowe: ...Keep her out of here then.

Marlowe questions why Mars isn't anxious about the disappearance of his wife. Mars bristles over the sensitive subject of the two missing persons - his own wife and Sean Regan:

Marlowe: You don't seem in much of a hurry to find that wife of yours. From what I hear, she's not the kind of a wife a guy wants to lose. Could it be you know where she is - and maybe Regan too?
Mars: Better stop being curious, soldier. What's between me and my wife is between us.
Marlowe: Sorry. Oh Eddie, uh, you don't have anybody watching me, do ya? Tailing me in a gray Plymouth coupe maybe? [Harry Jones, a down-at-the-heel hood who is not associated with Mars, is tailing Marlowe.]
Mars: No, why should I?
Marlowe: Well I can't imagine unless you're worried about where I am all the time.
Mars: I don't like you that well.

Mars uses the same alibi that Vivian has already given Marlowe - that his pretty wife is missing and has presumably run off with Regan.

[Note: Mrs. Mona Mars is later located out of town, hiding at Art Huck's garage/house with hit-man Canino. She disappeared about the same time as Regan so that it would be surmised that she had run away with the missing Sean Regan. That would take the heat off any suspicion that Regan was dead or that Mars might have killed him. Also, Mona's presumed relationship with Regan would account for Eddie Mars' lackadaisical attitude toward finding her, and his interest in Vivian instead.]

In the lobby, Marlowe is caught between the attentions of the hatcheck girl and a cigarette girl (Shelby Payne) who step over each other's lines to pass along a message to him: "Mrs. Rutledge asked that you would look her up before you went." He is helpfully directed to the center table roulette wheel to see how Vivian has won "eight bets in a row." She luckily wins a double-or-nothing spin that beats $28,000 from Mars' casino - a public display that demonstrates that she has a considerable amount of money. Marlowe leaves the casino first - as he goes out to his car, he notices one of Mars' thugs preparing to rob Vivian. When she leaves (wearing a three-quarter length fur coat over her long dress) with her cash, she is accosted outside the casino by one of Mars' men attempting to steal his money back - an apparent robbery attempt to prove that there is nothing between her and Mars. Disarming the thug with a single punch, Marlowe foils the robbery and wryly adds:

Somebody's always giving me guns. You can turn around now. I don't like people who play games. Tell your boss. (He knocks the gunman out.)

Fearing a setup, Marlowe knows the entire act ('hijack') was faked for his benefit - the failed strategy proves there is a crooked association between Vivian and Mars:

Vivian: Well, I'm glad I asked you to take me home.
Marlowe: So am I....What are you trembling for? Don't tell me you were scared because I won't believe that.
Vivian: I'm not used to being hijacked. Give me a little time.
Marlowe: Hijacked? Is that what it was?
Vivian: What else?

Marlowe drives away with Vivian half-reclining in the passenger seat of his coupe car. Alone in the car with her, he continues to question her about her connection to Mars - after pulling over and parking:

Marlowe: Let's begin with what Eddie Mars has on you.
Vivian: If he had anything, would it be any of your business? You've already been paid, haven't you?
Marlowe: Yeah, by you.
Vivian: Are you after more money?
Marlowe: Well, I guess you've got a right to ask that. No, I'm not after more money. I've already been well paid. I've got another reason.
Vivian: You like my father, don't you?
Marlowe: Hmm, hmm.
Vivian: Then why don't you stop?
Marlowe: Remember I told you I was beginning to like another one of the Sternwoods?
Vivian: I wish you'd show it.
Marlowe: That should be awful easy. (He kisses her.)
Vivian: (breathily) I liked that. I'd like more. (They kiss a second time.) That's even better.

After the brief romantic sequence and interlude, Marlowe again asks her his oft-repeated question: "What's Eddie Mars got on you?"

Marlowe: All right, now that's settled. What's Eddie Mars got on you?
Vivian: So that's the way...
Marlowe: That's the way it is. Kissing is all right. It's nice. I'd like to do more of it. But first, I want to find out what Eddie Mars has on you.

He suspects that she was playing "an act" with Mars at the casino, especially when he asks Vivian to open her purse and show him the $28,000 - she refuses, implying that the purse has been empty all along.

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