Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
The Big Sleep (1946)
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The Story (continued)

Marlowe watches from across the street as Geiger's "shadow" henchman Carol Lundgren (Tom Rafferty) [in Raymond Chandler's novel, Lundgren was Geiger's young homosexual lover] holds an umbrella for Geiger as he gets into his car after the store closes that evening. Marlowe follows Geiger to his home at the corner of Laverne Terrace and Crest Drive. [Off-screen, it is highly likely that Lundgren also drove there in a separate car and parked in back.] Carmen arrives too and parks in the driveway, as Marlowe waits outside in his car in the rain. A few hours later, Marlowe sees the flash of a flashbulb, hears a female scream and two gun shots. Two cars (and two men) zoom in quick succession from the scene of the crime [the Sternwood's Packard driven by Owen Taylor is followed by a station wagon driven by Joe Brody].

(1) Owen Taylor (Dan Wallace), Sternwood's replacement chauffeur for Regan, killed Geiger in Geiger's home.

Rushing inside, Marlowe finds Geiger sprawled on the floor shot to death, with an incoherent, stupefied Carmen sitting idly nearby in a drugged state, wearing a Chinese dress. Presumably, extortionist Geiger was taking candid-nude photographs of Carmen at his house when he was killed. Marlowe discovers evidence - a spent flash bulb, a hidden camera in a hollow, stone statue's head-mask (minus the film negatives or roll of film), and a "blackmailing" code book with the name Sternwood in it.

[Note: Taylor detested the blackmail schemes Geiger was applying to Carmen. Around the time of the murder, Taylor was Carmen's ex-boyfriend - he had even wanted to marry her once and was still romantically in love with Sternwood's younger daughter. He had been violently affected by her underworld association with Geiger. When Taylor discovered Geiger taking pornographic pictures of his beloved Carmen in his home - pictures that were to be part of the wider blackmail plot against the Sternwoods, he killed Geiger and then fled the scene after ripping the roll of film from Geiger's hidden camera. Brody, another slimy blackmailer, who was there in the back of the Geiger home, pursued Taylor and took the incriminating film with him as additional blackmail material. Later in the plot, it is revealed that Geiger is associated with the kingpin racketeer Eddie Mars who knows Carmen's - and Vivian's - guilty secrets.]

Marlowe slaps Carmen across the face to snap her out of her daze:

Carmen: You're cute.
Marlowe: And you're higher than a kite. Come on, wake up.
Carmen: I know you. Doghouse Reilly. You're cute.
Marlowe: What do you know about this?
Carmen: What?
Marlowe: Mr. Geiger here on the floor.
Carmen: He's cute too.
Marlowe: (after grabbing and shaking her) Look, you got a dead man lying at your feet. How did it happen?
Carmen: You talk a lot Reilly.

Before the police arrive, Marlowe takes a drugged-up, dozing Carmen back to the Sternwood mansion (in her car). Although his sleep "is so near waking," the General is sleeping [the big sleep?], according to Norris. Mrs. Rutledge appears in the front corridor wearing a white silk robe. Marlowe carries Carmen into Vivian's bedroom and puts her to sleep on the bed, to deposit her there and remove her from any association with the Geiger murder scene. Vivian distrusts his intentions, thinking him responsible for Carmen's suggestive and inebriated state. Marlowe proposes that they lie about Carmen's whereabouts. Affirming her loyalty to her sister ("You'd do anything..."), Vivian agrees on a fabricated story:

Marlowe: She'll be all right in the morning.
Vivian: Did you do this?
Marlowe: (mocking) That! Oh yes, that's a little special service I always provide all my clients.
Vivian: Including being insolent. Where did you find her?
Marlowe: I didn't find her...
Vivian: Well then, how did you...?
Marlowe: I haven't been here, you haven't seen me, and she hasn't been out of this house all evening.
Vivian: That bad.
Marlowe: Hmm, hmm.
Vivian: Just what did happen, Mr. Marlowe?
Marlowe: You're pretty fond of your sister, aren't you?
Vivian: Yes, I am.
Marlowe: You'd do anything for her, wouldn't you?
Vivian: Anything.
Marlowe: Then drop this whole thing.
Vivian: But I still think I should know what...
Marlowe: Unh, unh. Don't even ask her.
Vivian: She never remembers anyway.
Marlowe: Just what did she forget about Sean Regan?

By tricking Vivian to reveal information, Marlowe learns something about the tangled web of intrigue and murder surrounding the Sternwood family. There is a possible link between Carmen and Sean Regan.

[Note: Carmen loved Sean Regan, but he didn't reciprocate her love. She became jealous - and then killed Regan, thereby causing all the nefarious blackmailing schemes against herself.]:

Vivian: What did she tell you?
Marlowe: Not half as much as you just did. (He grabs her fists that are poised to strike.) Take it easy. I don't slap so good around this time of the evening.

Thunder and lightning flashes and strikes outside, lighting up her face. Vivian realizes she has been duped:

Vivian: You go too far, Marlowe.
Marlowe: Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he's walking out of your bedroom. (He turns and walks away.)

After returning by foot to Geiger's house to get his car, Marlowe learns that someone has already removed Geiger's body - there's a blood-stained carpet.

That same night and early the next morning, Marlowe is frustrated - unable to decipher the code in the codebook. Marlowe is visited at his apartment # 206 by homicide detective Bernie Ohls (Regis Toomey) who accompanies him to the scene of another murder. A Packard owned by the Sternwoods' and driven by Owen Taylor, Sternwood's chauffeur, has plunged off Lido pier. The driver drowned at the wheel of the Sternwood car. Obviously, it is a set up - the car plunged off the road after the rain stopped.

Because of the evidence, police suspect that Taylor was hit on his left temple by a blackjack long before the car plunged through the barricades into the sea. The hand throttle on the car was set half way down: "His neck was broken, something hit him hard across the left temple...the wound had already bled under the skin while he was still alive." Ohls is curious about the coincidence that: "two or three of the Sternwood chauffeurs lost their jobs on account of the younger daughter Carmen."

(2) After fleeing from the Geiger house, Taylor was found black-jacked to death before his car was run off the Lido pier. It was postulated that Joe Brody followed Taylor and killed him.

[The most likely scenario: Joe Brody, boyfriend to Geiger's salesclerk Agnes, followed Taylor in his car after the killing, killed Taylor, and then probably returned to the house and moved Geiger's body to buy time to move in on the blackmailing pornographer's illicit business/racket. Carol Lundgren, introduced later, may also have been the one to move the body.]

Brody was a competing, ambitious small-time racketeer, who felt that Taylor was getting too close and might blow Geiger's prosperous blackmailing and smut-lending business scheme wide open - the racket that Brody hoped to inherit that was being fueled by more Sternwood payoffs. Now with Geiger gone, Joe Brody is scheming to move in and take over the lucrative racket, and continue to blackmail Carmen - or Vivian - with incriminating film negatives. In Chandler's novel, Brody was also an ex-boyfriend of Carmen's.

[A second, less likely alternative: Brody blackjacked and knocked out Taylor and then took the roll of film. When Taylor regained consciousness, he discovered that the incriminating film of nude Carmen was stolen. Distraught, he tied down his car's own throttle and committed suicide.]

Vivian, in a tweedy outfit with black beret, has been waiting for a long time outside Marlowe's seedy office the next day. She greets him derisively in another verbal sparring:

Vivian: So you do get up. I was beginning to think perhaps you worked in bed, like Marcel Proust.
Marlowe: Who's he?
Vivian: You wouldn't know him. A French writer.

She is unimpressed by his seedy office: "You don't put on much of a front, do you?" Rather than take a chair, Vivian perches herself on the edge of Marlowe's desk, and confirms the fact that Taylor was in love with Carmen. With her own reasons for being curious still hidden, she again asks the reason that he was hired by her father:

Vivian: Do you still feel you can't tell me what my father wants you to do?
Marlowe: Not without his permission.
Vivian: You can't even tell me if it was about Carmen?
Marlowe: Nope.

She shows Marlowe a picture of Carmen.

[Note: the assumption is made that it is a revealing, incriminating nude photo.]

It had been delivered that morning to the Sternwood house by a messenger. Marlowe observes: "She takes a nice picture." Still possessing the original roll of film negatives, Brody and his scheming partner-in-crime/girlfriend Agnes, Geiger's former assistant and salesclerk, are blackmailing Carmen's sister Vivian for $5,000 dollars, to be paid to prevent publication of the photo: "The woman [Agnes] said if they didn't get the money today, I'd be talking to my sister through a wire screen. She said there was a police jam connected with it."

While speaking, Vivian itches her left knee and he encourages her to scratch it - with appropriate double entendres introduced:

Go ahead and scratch. (She itchs higher up on her leg with rapidity, and then conceals her leggy skin with her dress.)

Visibly edgy, she nervously pulls on the five fingers of her black glove. She wants to keep the police out of the case, pay the blackmail fee for silence, have the negatives returned, and get Marlowe off the case - without going to the police, who might find something else suspicious.

[Note: Vivian doesn't want Mars' blackmailing scheme against her divulged. After Regan's murder, Vivian had hired Eddie Mars to bury the incriminating evidence against her sister Carmen.]

Marlowe insightfully deduces: "Why didn't you go to the police?...Because you were afraid they might turn up something that I couldn't sit on. Then where would the Sternwoods be. Isn't that right?"

She phones the police department - and together, they share a prank call on a police-department desk sergeant in a memorable, switch-places phone conversation. With impromptu comraderie, they engage in double-talk and improvise the scene by impersonating members of a family - a mother and a father, daughter and a son:

Vivian: Hello. Police Headquarters, please. Hello, this is Mrs...
Marlowe: (He grabs the phone and stops her call.) Hello. What do you want, please?
Police: I don't want a thing.
Marlow: What?
Police: You called me.
Marlowe: I called you? Say, who is this?
Police: This is Sergeant Riley at headquarters.
Marlowe: Sergeant Riley? Well, there isn't any Sergeant Riley here.
Police: I know that! Now look brother...
Marlowe: Wait a minute. You'd better talk to my mother.
Police: I don't want to talk to your mother. Why should I want to talk to your mother...
Vivian: Hello. Who is this?
Police: This is the police.
Vivian: The police! Well, this is no police station.
Police: I know that!
Vivian: Well if you know it, then why don't ya...Look, this is not a police station.
Police: This is silly...
Vivian: What was that you said?...My father should hear this.
Police: I don't want to talk to your father...
Marlowe: Hello. Who is this?
Police: This is the police talking.
Marlowe: Yeah, but she just told you that...
Police: She just rang the police!
Marlowe: Oh, you're the police. (Oh, he's the police.) Oh, well that's different. What can I do for you?
Police: You can...
Marlowe: I can do what? Where? Oh, no. I wouldn't like that, neither would my daughter. (Hangs up the phone.) I hope the sergeant never traces that call.
Vivian: You like to play games, don't you?
Marlowe: Hmm, hmm.
Vivian: Why did you stop me phoning?

He offers two reasons for ending the call: "'Cause I'm working for your father or because I think I'm beginning to like another one of the Sternwoods." Vivian has ignited his interest and primitive libido, and she grins and elusively accedes: "I prefer the second reason."

Vivian tells Marlowe that she wants to pay Brody's blackmail of $5,000 for the film, and that the money is obtainable not from her father but from big-shot gambler and casino boss Eddie Mars (John Ridgely): "Oh, I can get the money. I've been a good customer of Eddie Mars."

[Note: Mars is blackmailing Vivian about her sister's involvement in and knowledge of Regan's disappearance.]

To mislead Marlowe and keep him from making any connection between Regan and Carmen, she mentions a possible link between two other missing persons - Sean Regan and the alluring wife of hard-nosed gambler Eddie Mars, a blonde named Mrs. Mona Mars (Patricia Clarke):

There's a bond between Mr. Mars and the Sternwoods. You see, Sean Regan ran off with Eddie's wife. That doesn't interest you?...Sean's not in any cheap blackmailing scheme.

Marlowe is unsure that the connection between Vivian and Mars is only a Sternwood family "bond." Marlowe makes it clear what their respective positions are:

Marlowe: You want to tell me now...what it is you're trying to find out. You know it's a funny thing. You're trying to find out what your father hired me to find out, and I'm trying to find out why you want to find out.
Vivian: You could go on forever, couldn't you? Anyway, it'll give us something to talk about next time we meet.

As she tries to leave, the door latch is locked, and Marlowe apologizes. She playfully nurtures his fondness for her with a counter-phrase:

Marlowe: Well, it wasn't intentional.
Vivian: Try it sometime.

Marlowe returns to Geiger's bookshop where Agnes again attempts to mislead him. He happens to see two men [Brody and Carol Lundgren] who are busy packing up books in the back room, and tells Agnes: "It looks like you're moving today." A female cabbie (Joy Barlowe) drives Marlowe in her taxi - they follow Brody's station wagon as it leaves the store by a back alley:

Cabbie: Where are we going?
Marlowe: Followin' a car - a tail job.
Cabbie: I'm your girl, bud.
Marlowe: Wouldn't be bad. That station wagon comin' out of the alley. That's the one.

They trail the station wagon to Joe Brody's Randall Arms apartment.

[Note: Geiger is the man whom the General earlier mentioned in the greenhouse as the recipient of $5,000 in blackmail money, but now with Geiger and Taylor dead, Brody's take-over dreams are beginning to materialize. Working with Agnes, Geiger's salesclerk and his own girlfriend, they quickly take over Geiger's porno-book business and move all of Geiger's pornographic books and blackmail files in a station wagon to Brody's apartment, before the law will know that there is Geiger's murder to investigate.]

Afterwards, Marlowe pays the flirty cabbie for his "tail job" ride, and exchanges sexual banter with her:

Marlowe: Here you are sugar, buy yourself a cigar.
Cabbie: If you can use me again sometime, call this number. (She hands him a card.)
Marlowe: Day and night?
Cabbie: Uh, night's better. I work during the day.

In his own car, Marlowe returns to Geiger's house where he finds thumb-sucking Carmen hiding in the bushes. After questioning the young girl with a clouded memory about the previous evening's events, she surmises that Joe Brody killed Geiger.

[Note: Carmen's assumption is incorrect. Later, Carol Lundgren makes the same incorrect assumption and kills Brody for revenge.] But Carmen does knows that compromising pictures were taken of her:

Carmen: Yes, Joe did it.
Marlowe: He did? Why?
Carmen: I don't know.
Marlowe: But you were ready to tell the police he did it, huh? That is, if we can get the photograph he's got.
Carmen: You mean..
Marlowe: Oh yes. It's gone. I looked for it last night. Brody took it with him.

After ringing Geiger's doorbell and letting himself in with a key, Eddie Mars appears looking for Geiger. Marlowe explains that they dropped in for business and found the door open. Mars makes it appear that he doesn't know Carmen and she is allowed to leave. Mars looks under the carpet for blood stains where Geiger was killed and then doesn't believe Marlowe's excuse for being there:

Mars: Convenient the door being open when you didn't have a key.
Marlowe: Yeah, wasn't it? By the way, how did you happen to have one?
Mars: Is it any of your business?
Marlowe: I could make it my business.
Mars: I could make your business mine.
Marlowe: But you wouldn't like it. The pay's too small.
Mars: All right, I own this house. Geiger's my tenant. Now what do you think of me?
Marlowe: You know some nice people.
Mars: I take it as they come.

Mars' excuse for being there is that he owns the house and was passing by to check on his tenant.

[Note: Mars is more likely there in order to check on the bloody evidence left behind after the killing.]

Skeptical of Mars, Marlowe suspects that there is more of a connection between Mars and Geiger than the simple tenant-landlord relationship.

[Note: It could be that Geiger's business needed strong-arm protection and head racketeer Mars was able to deliver power and contacts.]

Marlowe keeps urging Mars to call the police, but he ignores him. Mars, not appearing to know who is taking over Geiger's racket, asks Marlowe's opinion about the killing:

Mars: Got any good ideas, soldier?
Marlowe: One or two. Somebody gunned Geiger, or somebody got gunned by Geiger who ran away, or he had meat for dinner and likes to do his butchering in the parlor. No, I don't like it either. Maybe you'd better call your friends downtown.
Mars: I don't get it. I don't get your game here.
Marlowe: Don't you, Mr. Mars.
Mars: I wondered why you didn't ask me who I was. You seem to be telling me Geiger was in a racket of some kind. What racket?
Marlowe: I wouldn't know. I'm not his landlord. But I'll tell you something you missed. Somebody cleaned out the back of Geiger's store today.
Mars: You know, you talk too much.

Mars' henchmen, Sidney (Tom Fadden) and Pete (Ben Welden), search Marlowe and find his credentials: "The shamus." Mars is very curious about who was clearing out the back of Geiger's store, but Marlowe won't divulge names (that it was Brody and Carol Lundgren). As he leaves, Marlowe dares Mars to call the cops and sarcastically asks him about Vivian's reference to his wife:

Marlowe: By the way, how's Mrs. Mars these days?
Mars: You take chances, Marlowe.
Marlowe: I get paid to.

In his office that night, Marlowe receives a phone call from Vivian telling him that she hasn't heard from the blackmailer with further instructions about payment, but she still has the money in case there's a call:

I'm sorry I have nothing to tell you.

She invites suspicions when she calls and tries to divert him - to keep him at his office.

[Note: Marlowe was expecting that she would explain what the demands of the blackmailers were. In the meantime however, Vivian has decided to keep Marlowe out of the picture by paying off the blackmailers on her own at Brody's apartment in order to again protect her sister - this time, from being implicated in Geiger's murder.]

On a hunch that Vivian isn't telling the truth, Marlowe is intrigued to find out why she has lied to him, and how deeply she is involved in the plot. He waits crouched down in his car outside Brody's apartment - he sees her pull up and enter alone.

After waiting a few moments, he follows her up to the door to Brody's apartment. Marlowe first pretends that he is looking for Geiger ("the fellow with the blackmail racket"). He argues his way into Joe's apartment by claiming that he wants 'in' on the blackmail scheme: "Joe, you've got Geiger's stuff. I got his sucker list. Don't you think we ought to talk things over? Now!" Marlowe has two solid reasons for his claims:

  • Marlowe knows that Brody cleared out Geiger's store
  • Marlowe has Geiger's blackmailed persons list (in the code book, or "sucker list")

Brody pulls a gun on him inside the apartment. Marlowe down-plays the danger and turns the tables on Brody:

Marlowe: My, my, my! Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You know, you're the second guy I've met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world with the tail. Ha, ha, ha. Put it down, Joe. The other guy's name was Eddie Mars. You ever hear of him?
Brody: Nope.
Marlowe: If he ever gets wise to where you were last night in the rain, you'll hear of him.

Marlowe has spotted Brody's "friend with the pointed toes" - Agnes - hiding with Vivian behind a curtain. Vivian's trickery is also unmasked and she is also brought out from hiding. She is annoyed that he has trailed her, and that he has revealed her duplicity.

[Note: Vivian believes that she can convince Brody to drop the blackmail without Marlowe's interference.]

Vivian: Marlowe, you're ruining everything, yes you are.

To recover the photographs/negatives, Marlowe plants the idea that Joe Brody could be "framed" by Carmen for killing Geiger - Carmen ("a witness") was there at Geiger's house when Geiger was killed and could implicate Brody as the killer. Brody also "had nerve enough" to take the roll of film and hide Geiger's body sometime later that evening:

Brody: What are you up here for?
Marlowe: To keep her [Vivian] from paying you off and to take the cops off your neck.
Brody: What cops?
Marlowe: The cops who want to find out where all that lead in Geiger's body came from. Look Joe, you shot Geiger.
Vivian: I didn't know that...
Marlowe: The cops don't yet. The trouble is he wasn't alone when you shot him. Either you didn't notice that, and I think you did, or you got scared and ran away. But you had nerve enough to take the film out of the camera. And you had nerve enough to come back later and hide the body...
Agnes: (To Marlowe) You're crazy. (To Joe) Joe...
Brody: Shut up.
Marlowe: So you could clean out Geiger's store before the law knew there was a murder to investigate.
Brody: You take chances, mister. It's lucky for you I didn't shoot Geiger.
Marlowe: Yeah, but you can step off for it just the same, Joe. You're made to order for the rap.
Brody: You think you've got me framed?
Marlowe: Positive.
Brody: How come?
Marlowe: Because somebody will tell it that way. I told ya there was a witness. Now don't go simple on me, Joe.
Brody: You mean Carmen, she would. She'd say anything.
Marlowe: So you have got that picture!
Brody: I guess you think I'm dumb.
Marlowe: Just average for a grafter.
You see Joe, either you were there last night, or you got the picture from somebody who was there. You knew Carmen was there because you had your girlfriend here threaten Mrs. Rutledge with the police. Now the only way you could have known enough to do that was by being there and seeing what happened or having the picture and knowing when and where it was taken. That makes sense, doesn't it?

[Note: Director Howard Hawks symbolizes power relationships by the characters' use of physical space. In this scene, Vivian's space decreases after being embarrassed and mortified. Marlowe grows more dominant as he 'wins' her love throughout the film. Vivian sits as an immobile observer on the couch as the men spar at each other. Because Brody had successfully blackmailed General Sternwood six or seven months earlier, Brody surmised that he could use the film as new blackmail material. Carmen's lurid pictures (and Brody's understanding of their potential value for blackmailing purposes) clearly imply that Brody was present at the scene of the murder and was involved.]

Marlowe demands the incriminating pictures from Brody. Just then, a drunken (or doped-up) Carmen rings the bell and enters with a gun threateningly pointed at Brody: "I want my picture, Joe. I want my picture." Marlowe disarms Carmen and Agnes, collecting everybody's arsenal of guns. Carmen is crawling on the floor after being tripped - Marlowe instructs her: "Get up angel. You look like a Pekinese." Joe turns over the negatives to Marlowe and Carmen likewise also wants them:

Carmen: Can I have my picture now?
Marlowe: No.
Carmen: Can I have my gun back?
Marlowe: Later.
Carmen: You're cute. I like you.
Marlowe: What you see's nothing. I've got a Balinese dancing girl tattooed across my chest.

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