Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) is out tracking down a runaway daughter when he encounters an ex-con named Moose Malloy (Jack O'Halloran). Malloy, who has just gotten out of jail after serving seven years for bank robbery, hires Marlowe to find his missing girlfriend, Velma. Malloy hasn't even heard from Velma in six years, and Marlowe is reluctant to take the case, but Malloy is a mountain of a man (he makes Robert Mitchum look small!), and by sheer will makes Marlowe take the case.
Meanwhile, Marlowe also winds up investigating the murder of one of his clients, a guy named Marriott, who was involved with a missing jade necklace. Of course, both cases turn out to be connected, and Marlowe gets caught up in something far bigger than he imagined.
Charlotte Rampling plays Velma/Helen, the mysterious Femme Fatale. Harry Dean Stanton is Detective Rolfe of the LAPD. Sylvester Stallone appears in a bit part, the year before he hit it big with Rocky. This film is also the very first producing credit for Jerry Bruckheimer.
Tropes appearing in this film:
- Auto Erotica: Marlowe and Helen act on all that sexual tension in Marlowe's car by the beach.
- Bulletproof Human Shield: A variant, in one scene a man stops a woman being attacked by shooting the attacker in the back. Had the bullet gone through it would have gone into the victim too.
- The Cameo: Legendary pulp fiction novelist Jim Thompson appears briefly, as Mr. Grayle. It was his only movie role.
- Chalk Outline: Malloy kills the new owner of Florian's when he proves uncooperative. The movie shows a chalk outline drawn around the victim's body while the body is still on the floor.
- Come Alone: A man on the phone tells Marlowe to come alone and unarmed. He takes a gun out of the drawer, and informs us that when someone tells you that, it's time to bring a gun that works.
- Cuckold: Helen and Marlowe are locked in a passionate kiss on the couch when Mr. Grayson opens the door, sees them kissing, and steps back out. Helen tells Marlowe that Grayson doesn't mind.
- Fag Hag: Dialogue states explicitly that Helen socializes almost exclusively with gay men like Marriott.
- Famous Last Words:Moose Malloy: Why?
- Fanservice Extra: A lot of naked High Class Call Girls at Frances Amthor's brothel.
- Film Noir: Murder, double-crosses, a hardboiled detective, a Femme Fatale.
- Flashback Effects: The old-but-true shimmering wave effect is used to transition from the framing device to Marlowe's story.
- The '40s: It takes place in 1941. Marlowe the baseball fan keeps chattering about Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak, while the newspapers are covering the German invasion of Russia.
- Framing Device: Marlowe, holed up in a cheap hotel room, telling the whole story to Detective Rolfe.
- Grand Staircase Entrance: How Mrs. Grayle, aka Velma Valento, makes her impressive entrance.
- Hardboiled Detective: Marlowe.
- Lady Drunk: Mrs. Florian, whom Marlowe visits as he looks for a lead on Velma, who used to work at Mr. Florian's club. He's told to bring a pint of liquor if he wants her to talk. Sure enough, she takes it, she chugs from the bottle before pouring drinks, and she's already drunk enough that she spills a fair bit of the alcohol. Then she goes on a morose monologue about how she used to be a dancer with a great nightclub act.
- Mathematician's Answer: Half the movie has people asking Marlowe, with varying degrees of violence, where Moose Malloy is. When Moose finally calls Marlowe, Marlowe asks "Where you been hiding?", and Moose answers "Where nobody found me."
- Private Eye Monologue: The Framing Device of the film is that Marlowe is telling a police detective what happenned. We see the entire film playing out as he describes the events one at a time.
- Second Face Smoke: Frances Amthor, who seems to be a cross between a madam and a crime boss, has Marlowe whacked over the head and kidnapped. She demands to know where Moose Malloy is, while insulting Marlowe. After he blows smoke in her face the confrontation gets uglier.
- She's Got Legs: Helen makes a show of crossing and re-crossing her legs as she sits down opposite Marlowe, which he specifically notes when he moves to sit on the couch next to her and kiss her.
- Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Somebody, presumably The Chanteuse, is lounging atop a piano when Marlowe goes into the nightclub, Florian's.
- Too Dumb to Live: At the end, Marlowe notes that Moose was so blinded by his love for Velma that he had no problem turning his back on the woman who sold him out and disarming his only ally, and if he'd survived her shooting him he'd probably have forgiven that too.
- Trophy Wife: Helen Grayson is the young, sexy wife of an elderly, infirm, and extremely rich man.