Moose Malloy has just gotten out of jail, and hires detective Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) to track the love interest he lost touch with while serving time. Marlowe is also hired by a beautiful woman named Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor) to find a stolen jade necklace. It becomes more obvious that their stories are connected as the film continues.
The film was also a successful case of Playing Against Type for Powell, who had been known for musical comedies until this film (the film was even renamed to avoid confusion with being a musical). It allowed him to get more dramatic roles after this. He reprised the role a decade later in a television adaptation of The Long Goodbye.
Tropes used by the film:
- Betty and Veronica: The classic dilemma between sexy, evil Helen and Mr. Grayle's innocent but also sexy daughter Anne (Anne Shirley, in her last role before retiring from acting at age 26).
- Chiaroscuro: The Grayle beach house where Marlowe meets Helen (and where the climax takes place) is lit this way.
- Deadpan Snarker: Powell does a great job (arguably even better than Bogart) in capturing how snarky Marlowe is.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Marlowe is too busy staring at Helen's legs to pay attention to Mr. Grayle.
- Doesn't Like Guns: "That's just part of my clothes. I hardly ever shoot anybody with it."
- Does Not Like Men: Anne."Sometimes I hate men. ALL men. Old men, young men... beautiful young men who use rosewater and... almost heels who are private detectives."
- Femme Fatale: Helen Grayle/Velma Valento, who seems to favor murder as the solution to all her problems.
- Film Noir
- Going By The Match Book
- Hardboiled Detective: one of the classic examples.
- He Knows Too Much: Helen decides this about Marlowe at the end.
- How We Got Here: The opening scene has Marlowe, who is blindfolded, being grilled by the police. He then tells the whole story in flashback.
- Impairment Shot: Several elaborate ones as Marlowe is hit over the head, drugged, and otherwise roughly treated over the course of the movie. When he's knocked out he says "a black pool opened up under me", and a black outline covers up the screen in an irregular iris. When he's dazed and drugged up in the bad guy lair, a smoky filter is superimposed on the screen.
- Interrogation Flashback: The film is told by Philip Marlowe in flashback, as Marlowe, who has bandages over his eyes, is being interrogated by the cops. The flashbacks tell the whole story, including why Marlowe is wearing the bandages.
- Lady Drunk: The widow Florian, whose husband owned the club that Velma sang at, is this, severely intoxicated when Marlowe questions her. Except that he peers through the window after leaving her house, sees her on the phone, and realizes it was all an act.
- Nothing Personal: "It ain't personal if we don't like you, we've got a personal routine to follow after a killing."
- Only in It for the Money: Philip only does his job for the money.Philip: Only reason I took the job was because my bank account was trying to crawl under a duck.Lieutenant Randall: You're not a detective, you're a slot machine. You'd slit your own throat for 6 bits plus tax!
- Phony Psychic: Jules Amthor admits that he is this, scamming gullible society ladies.
- Pretty in Mink: Ann wears a mink coat at the end.
- Private Eye Monologue
- Really Gets Around: Helen."I've gone out with other men. I find men very attractive."
- Smoking Is Cool
- Trophy Wife: Sexy Helen Grayle, married to a much older man. Mr. Grayle later admits that he likes to pretend she would have married him even if he weren't rich.
- Weapon for Intimidation: Philip Marlowe carries a revolver but states that he rarely needs it."That's just part of my clothes. I hardly ever shoot anybody with it."