Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Big Sleep (1946)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Big Sleep (1946)

In director Howard Hawks' and Warner Bros.' classic, atmospheric, private detective film noir mystery with a score by the great Max Steiner - its crackling dialogue was based upon a faithful adaptation of Raymond Chandler's complex first novel in 1939 of his first Philip Marlowe book, scripted by William Faulkner (with Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett). The film's title was a reference to death. The confusing, classic who-dun-it and noirish film involved themes of drugs, nymphomania, pornography, decadence, blackmail, and murder in Los Angeles. The detective was met with deception, threats of extermination, and violence (although most of the killings were discreetly committed off-screen).

It was unusual as a classic film noir for not having flashbacks, voice-over narration, or expressionistic images. Its incomprehensible and very tangled plot (and tortuous story line without a completely clear resolution) set the standard for private detective movies, and was remade in 1978 with Robert Mitchum. The finale to the twisted plot of this classic film noir mystery with multiple murders tied up some of the story's many loose ends:

  • during the title credits sequence, two silhouettes (of the film's main stars) smoke cigarettes, concluding with their two cigarettes in the same ashtray (symbolizing their passion for each other); each of the screens is blown or swept away with cigarette smoke
  • in the opening scene, hard-boiled private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) was called to the mansion of a new client - dying, widowed millionaire General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) with two daughters; when he arrived, he was confronted in the hallway by the General's flirtatious, seductive younger daughter - she was the troubled, errant, spoiled, sexually-perverse, thumb-biting/sucking, frequently doped-up nymphomaniacal heiress-daughter Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers)
Seductive Femme Fatale Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers)
  • wearing a short polka-dotted skirt, she threw herself at him in the hallway by first taunting him: "You're not very tall, are you?" As she bit on a lock of her own hair, she asked for his name, and he replied: "Reilly. Doghouse Reilly" and then called himself a "shamus" to her amusement: ("That's a funny kind of name. What are you, a prize fighter?"); he responded that he was a "shamus" (private detective). She called Marlowe "not bad looking" and "cute" after falling backwards into his arms; he regarded her as 'babyish' to the dignified butler Norris (Charles Brown): "You oughta wean her, she's old enough"; later, during his humid hothouse talk in the temperature-controlled greenhouse with crippled General Sternwood, Marlow described his meeting with Carmen: "She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up"

"Shamus" Private Detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart)

Wheel-chaired Millionaire General Sternwood (Charles Waldron)
  • Marlowe was asked and then commissioned by Sternwood to prevent and break up a troublesome blackmail ring that threatened him; previously a year earlier, Sternwood had been blackmailed by gambler and petty crook Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt), who was paid $5,000 "to let my younger daughter alone"; Sternwood also showed Marlowe a collection of legally-uncollectible "gambling debt" notes - signed and incurred by the old man's indiscreet, irresponsible, childish, unstable nymphette youngest daughter Carmen; besides gambling, she was now possibly involved with drug dealers and/or pornographers; the demand to pay the notes (thousands of dollars) was made by "rare book" dealer Arthur Gwynn Geiger (Theodore von Eltz) with a store on North Sunset; Sternwood wished for Marlowe to apply pressure and "get rid of him"
  • [Note: the exact nature of the blackmail was unclear, however, though it was likely that it wasn't just for gambling debts, but might also be drug-related; it was also possible that Geiger was running a secret pornography business, and had illicit, nude, incriminating or obscene photographs of Carmen and threatened to circulate them. Geiger was later determined to be associated with the kingpin racketeer Eddie Mars (Joe Ridgely) who possibly knew Carmen's guilty secrets.]
  • secondarily, Marlowe was also asked if he might locate Sternwood's favored, missing friend and companion Sean Regan, who had handled the first case of blackmail, but now was missing for a month "without a word"; he had suddenly disappeared under mysterious circumstances
  • on the way out, Marlowe also met Carmen's older, divorced feisty sister Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall) in her bedroom; she had been described by Sternwood as "exacting, smart, and ruthless"; she suspiciously and seductively cross-examined him due to her protectiveness for her sister: "So you're a private detective. I didn't know they existed, except in books. Or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotel corridors. My, you're a mess, aren't you?"; Marlowe quipped: "I'm not very tall either. Next time, I'll come on stilts, wear a white tie and carry a tennis racket"; she retorted: "I doubt if even that would help"; later, when she insulted his manners, he snapped back: "I don't mind if you don't like my manners. I don't like them myself. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them long winter evenings. And I don't mind your ritzing me, or drinking your lunch out of a bottle, but don't waste your time trying to cross-examine me"
  • the curious Vivian was fishing to find out if her father had asked him to find Sean Regan (whose car was found parked in a private garage a month earlier), rather than the more obvious threat - to deal with the most recent blackmailing threat against him involving Carmen
  • during the case, Marlowe first researched titles of collector's edition books in the Hollywood Public Library to become more knowledgeable before visiting blackmailer A. G. Geiger's Rare Books and De Luxe Editions bookstore in Hollywood; pretending to be an effeminate (gay) bookworm, Marlowe met salesclerk Agnes Lozier (Sonia Darrin), and realized she was unknowledgeable about rare editions; he theorized that the book store was probably a front for the blackmail racket or for a high-class lending library of pornographic, dirty books available for subscribers only
  • later in the afternoon (during a rainstorm), Marlowe waited across the street in another bookstore, the Acme Book Shop, for Geiger to appear; Marlowe had a sexual dalliance with the spectacled, antiquarian bookseller clerk (Dorothy Malone) who removed her eyeglasses, let her hair down, and closed early: ("It looks like we're closed for the rest of the afternoon"); he was offered a cup for their drinking pleasure and couldn't believe the quick transformation; he greeted her with an exaggerated "Hello," before they enjoyed an afternoon affair together - suggested by the film's fadeout
  • later, Marlowe noticed the suspected blackmailer Geiger being escorted to his car from the book store with his homosexual partner/driver Carol Lundgren (Tommy Rafferty), before Geiger drove off alone to his rented home, parked in the driveway and entered; Marlowe followed him and staked out Geiger's place [Off-screen, Joe Brody had driven there in a separate car and parked in back. Later, Brody mentioned that another car was also behind the house - "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"]; another car, registered to Carmen Sternwood, also arrived and parked on the side of the house; a figure raced in - it was Carmen herself
  • Marlowe was jolted in the middle of the night slouched down in his car when he saw the flash of a camera bulb, heard a female scream (Carmen's scream) and three gun shots; two cars in quick succession sped away from behind the house (one was Brody's car who was following a vehicle driven by Sternwood's replacement chauffeur for Regan, Owen Taylor (Dan Wallace) - never clearly seen on screen); Taylor was Carmen's ex-boyfriend who disliked the blackmailing schemes against her, and had entered the house to end the grift, and then fled after murdering Geiger
  • inside, Marlowe found an incoherent, stupefied, drugged-up, Chinese-dress wearing Carmen (implying something exotically-sensual) sitting idly nearby the dead blackmailer Geiger on the floor; Marlowe discovered evidence - a spent bulb in a separate, hand-held flash apparatus, a hidden camera in a hollow, stone statue's head-mask (minus the film negatives or roll of film, probably grabbed by Taylor), and a "blackmailing" code book (with ciphers) of clients (later called a "sucker's list") in a locked box in Geiger's desk with the name Sternwood on one of the pages; Geiger, or more probably Joe Brody, had been taking candid, nude or pornographic pictures of Carmen (not possible to be displayed in the film due to rigid censorship) when Geiger was shot dead

Marlowe Found Geiger Shot to Death in His Rented Home

Camera Hidden in a Stone Statue Head Pointed Toward Carmen

Marlowe to Drugged-Up Carmen: "You're higher than a kite"
  • Marlowe slapped Carmen across the face to snap her out of her daze: ("You're higher than a kite"). Before the police arrived, Marlowe took the drugged-up, dozing Carmen back to the Sternwood mansion (in her car that she had parked outside Geiger's house); he carried her into Vivian's bedroom and put her to sleep on the bed, to deposit her there and remove her from any association with the Geiger murder scene

Carmen Brought Home by Marlowe and Deposited in Vivian's Bed

Marlowe Confronting Vivian About The Link Between Carmen and Sean Regan (Vivian: "You go too far, Marlowe")

Marlowe Holding Vivian's Arms to Prevent Being Slapped
  • after returning Carmen to her home, Marlowe spoke to Vivian, and proposed that they lie about Carmen's whereabouts; then, he began to try and piece together what had happened; Vivian became nervous when Marlowe brought up the name Sean Regan; Vivian accused Marlowe of duping her to reveal information: "You go too far, Marlowe," since she wanted Marlowe off the case [Note: Carmen had loved her father's missing chauffeur Sean Regan, but he didn't reciprocate her love. She became jealous - and then killed Regan, thereby causing some of the nefarious blackmailing schemes against herself.]
  • as Marlowe left, Norris suggested calling Marlowe a cab, since he had driven Carmen back in her own car parked at Geiger's place; instead in the rain, Marlowe walked back to his own car, entered the house, and learned that someone else had already removed Geiger's body from the blood-stained carpet
  • later the next early morning at 2 am in the twisting tale, Marlowe was brought to the scene of a recent murder by homicide detective Bernie Ohls (Regis Toomey); the Sternwood's new chauffeur Owen Taylor was found dead (with blackjack head injuries the real cause of his death) - submerged in the Sternwood's Packard driven off the Lido Pier [Note: Still in love with Carmen, Taylor had undoubtedly learned of the picture-taking session, took a Sternwood car without permission, and avenged the blackmail schemes against Carmen by shooting and killing Geiger; the shady Joe Brody had immediately pursued him from Geiger's place, had likely killed him, and absconded with the negatives]
  • there were further developments when Vivian reported at Marlowe's office later the same day that she had received (by messenger that morning) more blackmail demands of $5,000 (and a photo of a nude Carmen) - in order to prevent publication of the photo; she wished to negotiate the return of the scandalous negatives of film photos recently taken of Carmen in Geiger's place; two possible blackmailing suspects were responsible - Joe Brody and his duplicitous girlfriend Agnes (a female had made the phone call to Vivian)
  • together Marlowe and Vivian made a prank phone call to the police department from his office: (Marlowe: "I hope the Sergeant never traces that call"), and Vivian observed: "You like to play games, don't you?"
  • after the call, Marlowe asked if she had the $5,000 in cash to meet the blackmailers' demands; she answered that she could probably get the money from gangster-gambler Eddie Mars; she added that the missing chauffeur Sean Regan had run off with mobster Eddie's wife, Mona Mars (Peggy Knudsen); Marlowe continued to be suspicious why Vivian was so curious about his investigation into Sean's whereabouts; she obviously wanted to avoid getting the police involved, and tried to mislead him from making any connection between Regan and Carmen
  • [Note: Vivian didn't want Mars' blackmailing scheme against her divulged; after Regan's murder by Carmen, Vivian had hired Eddie Mars to bury the incriminating evidence against her sister Carmen. Regan was thought to possibly be in the company of Mrs. Mona Mars; she had disappeared about the same time as Regan so that it would be surmised that she had run away with the missing Sean Regan. (This suspicion would remove any "heat" or suspicion that Regan might have been killed.)]
  • Marlowe visited Agnes again in the bookshop, and noticed that Lundgren and another man (Brody) were packing up books in a back-room after Geiger's death; it was clear to Marlowe that Joe Brody and Agnes were scheming to take over Geiger's blackmail racket after his death - putting them into direct take-over competition with the more volatile gangster Eddie Mars; Marlowe hired a sexy and flirtatious cabbie (Joy Barlow) to tail Brody's station wagon (filled with books) from the store to Brody's Randall Arms apartment; he also briefly visited Geiger's house and encountered both Carmen (who was confused about the previous night) and mobster Eddie Mars - his excuse to be there was that he was the landlord who had rented his house to Geiger
  • in the meantime, Vivian 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
  • that night instead of waiting for Vivian's phone call, Marlowe followed Vivian who entered Brody's apartment, and found both Vivian and Agnes hiding behind a curtain; shortly later, a drugged-up or doped Carmen also entered with a gun demanding the incriminating photos and negatives before she was led away by Vivian (after Marlowe was given the negatives by Brody)
  • under pressure, Brody confessed that he had stolen the negatives from Geiger's killer Taylor (to further blackmail Carmen), but denied murdering Taylor at the pier - it was highly probable that he was lying about not killing Taylor with a blackjack before making it look like a drowning; it was clear that Agnes had been forced by Brody to blackmail Vivian for $5,000 dollars, and was unhappy with him for failing; when Brody went to answer his door, he was shot and killed by Geiger's upset driver Carol Lundgren, who wrongly thought that Brody had killed Geiger; Marlowe apprehended Lundgren and reported him to the police, and also turned over Geiger's corpse (ceremoniously laid out earlier by Lundgren on the bed in Geiger's house)
  • soon after, Vivian began to warm up to Marlowe over drinks and cigarettes at a fancy LA bar-restaurant; she passed him a check for $500 dollars from her father for his work on the Geiger blackmail case; the private eye was also becoming sexually attracted to the older, sultry daughter Vivian
  • she engaged in a famous, slyly flirtatious, innuendo-laden, metaphoric sexy horse-race conversation with Marlowe: (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."); at the end of their conversation, she provided an answer to the question: "What makes me run?" -- "I'll give you a little hint. Sugar won't work. It's been tried."; Marlowe remained suspicious of Vivian and her underworld connection with Eddie Mars - and why he was being 'sugared' off the case - he asked her directly: "What's Eddie Mars got on you?" but she became flustered
  • later that evening, Marlowe visited gangster Eddie Mars' casino to curiously inquire about the missing Regan's whereabouts (and Mars' missing wife as well), and found the alluring Vivian a frequent patron at the gambling tables there; Marlowe suspected that high-class blackmailer Mars was forcing the overly-protective, well-intentioned Vivian to part with her gambling winnings in his casino (acquired often by cheating) and also to possibly offer him sexual favors; he watched as Vivian (who had just won 8 bets in a row) unbelievably won $28,000 dollars at the center roulette wheel on a double-or-nothing bet; outside as Vivian left, she was robbed by one of Mars' men, but Marlowe had anticipated the theft and punched out the robber
  • after Marlowe drove away with her to take her home, they had an opportunity to stop by the side of the road, where she made a direct request for kisses amidst the dark intrigue: (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 kissed her.) Vivian made a direct request for another: (breathily) "I liked that. I'd like more." (They kissed a second time.) "That's even better." Marlowe: "All right. Now that's settled...")
After Leaving Mars' Casino, Vivian Kissed Marlowe: "I like that -- I'd like more...That's even better"
  • Marlowe continued with his detective-questioning: "...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 wondered if her 'hijacking' was a set-up (to prove that there was nothing between Mars and Vivian); she became angered by his continuing, suspicious line of questioning and would admit to nothing; she also refused to show him the $28,000 (non-existent) in her purse
  • [Note: Following Regan's murder, Vivian feared that Marlowe might find out that gangster Mars was also blackmailing her regarding her sister. The 'real' blackmailer that rich General Sternwood (and Marlowe) needed to eliminate was not Geiger or Joe Brody but racketeer Mars, who was behind the blackmailing of both sisters - he knew that a drunken Carmen killed Regan and was using that knowledge against Vivian. Marlowe suspected that Mars had gone even further to keep police from learning the truth and investigating. Mars had supported his deceptions by hiding his wife Mrs. Mars at Huck's Garage (and house), to make it look like she had run away with Regan during their entirely conceivable and entirely-manufactured affair.]
  • as Marlowe returned home to his apartment, he found the thumb-biting, flirtatious Carmen; he learned that she didn't like Regan ("He didn't pay any more attention to me than you do"), and that her sister Vivian was often in contact with Mars ("He's always calling Vivian up"); he rebuffed her advances and threw her out
  • [Note: Marlowe had correctly laid out his suspicions that unstable, nymphomaniac Carmen Sternwood had killed the missing Regan when he refused her sexual advances; she had become jealous (with unrequited love) over an imaginary relationship that Regan was having with Eddie Mars' wife Mona. Carmen's loyal sister Vivian Rutledge had chosen to turn to her gambling acquaintance Mars, requesting that he help cover up the matter and "protect" her sister Carmen from guilt - and to prevent her sick father from any further suffering. With the help of Mars' cold-blooded hired killer Canino (Bob Steele), Regan's body was hidden and the deception was set up.]
  • to waylay Marlowe from the case, Vivian had notified the DA that she wanted Marlowe off the case; to get him off the track, she also reported that Regan had been located in Mexico
  • during his search to find Eddie Mars' wife Mona - the key to Regan's whereabouts, Marlowe was sidetracked by small-time hood Harry Jones (Elisha Cook, Jr.), Agnes' new boyfriend and one of Brody's men who had been tailing him; when Marlowe was about to meet up with mediator Jones to swap $200 dollars for the information from Agnes, he listened from behind a wall as Mars' strong-man thug Canino murdered Jones with a poisoned drink, for interfering
  • shortly later, Marlowe was directed by Agnes to the address of Art Huck's auto repair shop near Realito; there after faking a car accident, he was attacked and knocked out by Canino and tied up; when he regained consciousness, he was in the company of both Mona and Vivian in the nearby house; Vivian was there to hide out to cover up for the fact that she hadn't gone to Mexico to see Regan

Marlowe Tied Up at Art Huck's Ranch House

Blonde Wife Mrs. Mona Mars (Peggy Knudsen)

Vivian Kissing and Then Freeing Marlowe
  • knowing that Marlowe was facing certain death once Mars' henchman Canino returned, Vivian joined forces by first kissing him and then freeing the kidnapped and tied-up Marlowe; after rescuing him, she helped him to eliminate the hit-man during a shootout outside when she was used by Canino as a shield; after Marlowe shot three times and killed Canino, she admitted her motivation to Marlowe: "I guess I'm in love with you"
  • as they drove in Canino's car to Geiger's house, Vivian was still trying to protect Carmen; she falsely acknowledged killing Regan herself to cover for her sister: ("What if I told you I killed Sean Regan?"); Marlowe didn't believe her: ("You're playing with dynamite") - but vowed reciprocally why he was helping her: "I guess I'm in love with you"
  • after the uncovering of the web of secrets, Marlowe wanted to confront kingpin racketeer Eddie Mars; Marlowe hurried to set up an ambush at Geiger's house and await his arrival, by turning the tables on him; he phoned Mars from inside Geiger's house, and deceptively claimed that he was still in Rialto where Canino was dead ("I just killed your best boy")
  • when Mars arrived at Geiger's house, he didn't know he was about to be killed by his own two henchmen who set up their own ambush outside; after Mars entered the house by himself, Marlowe held a gun on him and forced him to confess (Marlowe: "You started to blackmail Mrs. Rutledge by telling her what Carmen had done"); then he taunted Mars ("But everything's changed now, Eddie, because I got here first")
  • Marlowe fired his gun, shattering the stone statue mask that contained the camera, and then wounded Mars with a second shot into his arm, and a third shot to scare him, forcing Mars to flee out of Geiger's house; Mars shouted vainly as he exited: "Don't shoot! It's me, Mars!", knowing that his own men were laying in wait for the first one to walk out; Mars was shot and killed at the doorway (marked by bullet holes) and fell back into the house
Marlowe Holding Gun on Eddie Mars Inside Geiger's House
Bullets Through Door Killing Racketeer Mars
  • their combined efforts had ended the blackmail scheme, and acquired treatment for Vivian's sick sister Carmen; Mars' death allowed Marlowe to protect Carmen (who would be sent "away" for psychiatric care in an institution) and Vivian by pinning the murder of Regan on Mars
  • Marlowe was able to end up with Vivian in a final clinch after everything had been resolved and the police were being summoned; Marlowe and Vivian were together in the darkened parlor of Geiger's house and awaiting the police's arrival; Vivian appraised the situation and noticed that there was still some unfinished business to take care of with Marlowe; Vivian: "You've forgotten one thing. Me." Marlowe (pulling her to him): "What's wrong with you?" Vivian: (with a smoldering glance) "Nothing you can't fix"
Vivian to Marlowe: "You've forgotten one thing. Me" Marlowe: "What's wrong with you?" Vivian: "Nothing you can't fix"

Marlowe's First Meeting with an Insulting and Skeptical Vivian (Lauren Bacall) - Carmen's Older Fiesty Sister

Marlowe Outside Geiger's Rare Books Store

Marlowe Pretending to Be an Effeminate Rare Book Collector

Suspicious and Unknowledgeable Rare Books Salesclerk Agnes Lozier (Sonia Darrin)

Across the Street - Friendly Acme Book Shop Proprietress (Dorothy Malone)

(l to r): Driver Carol Lundgren with Geiger, Escorting Him to His Car From the Book Store

2nd Car Parked at Geiger's Rented House - Registered to and Driven by Carmen

Vivian in Marlowe's Office With Incriminating Photo of Carmen and More Blackmail Demands

Interlude: Marlowe's And Vivian's Prank Phone Call to Police

Sexy, Flirty Cabbie (Joy Barlow) Following Brody's Station Wagon

The Black-Mailing Schemers:

Geiger's Salesclerk Agnes

Geiger's Gay Driver-Partner Carol Lundgren

Mobster-Gambler Eddie Mars

Blackmailer Joe Brody

Joe Brody with Girlfriend Agnes

Brody Shot Dead by Lundgren at His Own Apartment's Door

Lundgren Apprehended by Marlowe After He Killed Brody

Geiger's Corpse Laid Out on Bed in Geiger's House

Marlowe and Vivian: Horse-Racing Dialogue

Sexy Hatcheck Girl at Mars' Casino

Marlowe Finding Vivian at Mars' Casino at the Roulette Wheel - Winning Big

Marlowe Found Thumb-Biting Still Flirtatious Carmen in His Apartment

Small-Time Hood Harry Jones (Elisha Cook, Jr.) - Allied with Agnes

Canino (Bob Steele) - Threatening Harry Jones With a Poisoned Drink For Interfering

Agnes' Revealing to Marlowe (for $200) the Location of Eddie Mars' Wife Mona

Canino Using Vivian as a Shield During Shootout at the Farm House

Death of Canino

Vivian to Marlowe After Saving His Life: "I guess I'm in love with you" - He Reciprocated With the Same Words

Vivian with Marlowe at Geiger's House - Marlowe Calls Mars and They Await His Arrival


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