Days prior, Moose Malloy hired Marlowe to track down his old girlfriend Velma Valento. After eight years in prison, he no longer knows her whereabouts. Malloy takes Marlowe to The Florian; a nightclub Velma used to work at back in the day. Unfortunately, nobody remembers Velma, and the two men part ways so Marlowe can do some detecting.
Marlowe first heads to Jessie Florian’s home. She’s the widow of the Florian’s old owner, but she’s too drunk to give Marlowe much to go on. He does find Mrs Florian trying to hide a photo of Velma which he confiscates from her. Angry, Mrs Florian orders Marlowe to leave. While still on her porch, Marlowe catches a glimpse of her through her front door window calling someone on the phone in a panic.
The next day, Marlowe goes to his office, and finds Lindsay Marriott waiting for him. He offers Marlowe $100 to be his bodyguard for the night while he pays a ransom for some stolen jewels. Marlowe agrees, but requests Marriott hide in the car while he does the transaction. Once at the canyon where the exchange will happen, someone knocks out Marlowe from behind.
When he wakes, he finds a woman shining a flashlight in his face and the ransom money gone. The woman leaves, and Marlowe looks over the car. He finds someone killed Marriott, and he reports the murder to the police. Back at headquarters, the police question Marlowe. They casually drop the name Jules Amthor, which means nothing to Marlowe at this point, and they order him to back off the case.
Police threats don’t stop Marlowe
Once again, Marlowe winds up at his office. There, Ann Grayle waits for him; posing as a reporter. When she mentions the jewels are jade, Marlowe realizes this woman isn’t what she seems as nobody said anything about stolen jade.
He gets Ann to come clean, and she reveals that she’s actually Leuwen Grayle’s daughter, and the jade not only belongs to him, but her step mother, Helen, is the woman who was wearing them when thieves stole them from her while she and Marriott painted the town red.
She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who’d take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle. Philip Marlowe
Ann takes Marlowe to meet her father; an avid collector of precious jade. The necklace Helen lost is worth over $100,000, and he wants it back with as little fanfare as possible. After Ann and Leuwen leave, Marlowe chats with Helen for a bit. She tries to seduce him, but it doesn’t really work. He drops the name Jules Amthor to see if she knows anything about him. He learns Amthor is a psychic healer, and that both she and Marriott are clients of his. As Marlowe prepares to leave, Amthor mysteriously shows up, and the two men exchange pleasantries.
Later, Helen arrives at Marlowe’s abode to Helen retain his services to find her stolen jade. The amount of money is substantial, and he accepts. The two head to a night club where Helen immediately excuses herself to the powder room. Ann shows up and offers to pay him to stay out of the investigation.
Suddenly, Moose Malloy reappears, and forces Marlowe to leave with him to meet somebody. Amthor is that somebody, and he conned Malloy into bringing Marlowe to him under the guise of finding Velma. Now, Marlowe believes Amthor and Marriott set up Helen to steal her necklace, but something went wrong.
Now let’s see him do something really tough–like putting his pants on
When Marlowe doesn’t play ball with Amthor, Malloy chokes him out, but Amthor doesn’t let him kill him. Marlowe winds up in a make-shift sanitarium where they drug him for three days. Eventually, Marlowe escapes, but not before letting Malloy know that Amthor duped him.
Marlowe, needing a place to get his wits back, heads to Ann’s house. There, she says something that makes him realize that she was the woman with the flashlight the night of Marriott’s murder. The police show up, and ask Ann about her family’s beach house which was rented to Marriott of all people. After the cops leave, Marlowe decides to go take a look-see at the aforementioned beach house.
There, he finds Helen hiding from the police. Marlowe figures she hired him as a setup for Amthor, and that Ann’s bribe was an attempt to save him from the pair. Always scheming, Helen asks Marlowe to help her kill Amthor because he’s blackmailing her. She wants Marlowe to get Amthor to come to the beach house the next night to give him the necklace.
Marlowe is wise to her though, but agrees to help. He heads over to Amthor’s place to arrange the meeting. However, once there, he finds Amthor dead. Someone with very large hands snapped his neck.
The next day, Marlowe heads back to his office where Moose Malloy, a man with very large hands, waits. Malloy is terribly impatient now. He wants to know Velma’s whereabouts. So, Marlowe shows Malloy the photo he took from Mrs Florian’s home, but even though the picture has her name on it, that’s not Velma; which Marlowe already figured. He tells Malloy to lay low for a bit, and then meet him at the beach house later that night.
It’s murder, my sweet
Night falls, and Marlowe waits for Malloy outside the beach house. When he arrives, Marlowe tells him to wait for a bit more while he talks to Helen first. He needs to confirm something first before he lets Malloy come inside.
Marlowe enters, and after some idle chit chat between the two, Marlowe tells Helen he thinks she killed Marriott. He’s right, and Helen pulls a gun on him. She faked the story about robbery of the jade necklace, and the ransom was ruse. It was a plot to kill Marlowe after Mrs Florian tipped Helen and Marriott off that he was looking for Velma. She would have killed Marlowe that night too, but Ann appeared and spoiled it for her.
With the gun pointed at Marlowe’s stomach, Leuwen and Ann show up. Helen orders Leuwen to take Marlowe’s gun. Now defenseless, it looks like it’s curtains for Marlowe, but Leuwen shoots and kills Helen first.
Malloy, hearing a shot from outside, bursts into the room. There, he sees Velma dead, and we learn that Velma and Helen are one and the same person. Leuwen admits to Malloy to shooting Helen, and Malloy snaps. He goes to strangle Leuwen, but Leuwen shoots. There’s a flash as Marlowe tries to stop the men from killing each other. Everything goes black.
We return to the police station at the beginning of the movie where Marlowe still sits; still blindfolded. He finishes telling his side of the night’s events, and the police let him go because Ann corroborated his story. They tell him Malloy and Leuwen died on the scene after going for Marlowe’s gun.
A Hollywood ending
Unbeknownst to Marlowe, Ann was in the room for his whole testimony. Detective Nulty escorts Marlowe, still blindfolded, out the building. On the way out, Marlowe tells Nulty about how attractive Ann really is, but he wouldn’t know anything about that. Nulty puts Marlowe into a cab, and Ann slides in next to him. Recognizing her perfume, the blindfolded Marlowe asks “Detective Nulty” for a kiss. Ann enthusiastically obliges.