The Big Sleep (1946 Film)

The Big Sleep (1946 Film) Quotes and Analysis

A nice old guy has two daughters. One of them is, well, wonderful. And the other one is not so wonderful. As a result somebody gets something on her. The father hires me to pay off. Before I can get to the guy, the family chauffeur kills him! But that didn't stop things. That just starts 'em. And two murders later I find out somebody's [Mars] got something on wonderful [Vivian]....Last night, the two of 'em...they went to the moon to prove to me there was nothing between 'em. But I think there is and I think it's got something to do with Sean Regan.

Philip Marlowe

Here, Marlowe tells Bernie about why he wants to keep working on the Sternwood case, even though he's been discouraged from doing so. In describing the situation, Marlowe pretty much gives a summary of the entire movie. A little skimpy on the details, but the synopsis of events he has been involved with gives a pretty accurate account of the narrative so far. The nice old guy is Mr. Sternwood. Vivian is his wonderful daughter, while Carmen is less than wonderful. All signs point to the mysterious Sean Regan.

Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You’re the second guy I’ve met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail.

Philip Marlowe

Here, Marlowe displays a flair for humor which sometimes seems designed to ironically undercut and disarm (literally and figuratively) his opponent. He says this to Joe Brody, who pulls a gun on him. Marlowe rarely uses brute force or gun-waving to get answers out of his opponents, but he is an expert at disarming his enemies and displays an expertise with guns. In contrast to the men he encounters, however, he'd rather use his brains.

I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the back stretch, and then come home free.


After he solves the mystery of Arthur Geiger's murder, Vivian and Marlowe go out for a drink and flirt more. Here, Vivian gives a gambler’s assessment of Marlowe as though he were a race horse. By turning him into a thoroughbred, Vivian obliquely comments on what she imagines are Marlowe's assets and virtues as a lover. Her description of Marlowe as a race horse is an iconic instance of early Hollywood sexual insinuation. While she says nothing overtly sexual, the viewer knows that her metaphor of Marlowe as a racehorse is a double entendre.

Then she tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up.

Philip Marlowe

In this quote, Marlowe describes his first meeting with Carmen Sternwood to her father. In the novel, Carmen is a nymphomaniac, but the film censorship rules of the day would certainly not allow that word nor any obvious imagery to exhibit her psychological disorder. Instead, Marlow makes this joke to her father to communicate that he understands Carmen's condition.

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.

Vivian and Philip Marlowe

Here is another example of the snappy repartee and double entendre. After bringing the drugged Carmen to the Sternwood estate, and depositing her in Vivian's bedroom, Marlowe gets into a bit of a fight with Vivian, and storms out angrily. Vivian advises him not to get too curious about their case and simply to solve the mystery of Geiger, but Marlowe is determined to find out more, and throws this sarcastic and flirtatious one-liner Vivian's way as he leaves.

Carmen: You're cute. I like you.

Marlowe: What you see's nothing. I've got a Balinese dancing girl tattooed across my chest.

Carmen and Philip Marlowe

Here, Marlowe uses his wit to fire back at Carmen when she flirts with him in Joe Brody's apartment. Marlowe's quick humor is certainly not relegated just to his sexually-charged repartee with Carmen's older sister. Here, his ironic, world-weary act is an effective way of confirming his outsider status as well as a tool to deflect the unwanted sexual attention of a wayward nymphomaniac.

You're cute.


Carmen makes this observation of Marlowe on a number of occasions, and it is an almost compulsive mantra about her desire for sexual affirmation and male attention. This line, uttered several times to Marlowe, signifies Carmen's unhealthily insatiable sexual appetite.

Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, and their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.

General Sternwood

In the heated greenhouse where he must spend a great deal of time to stave off his imminent death, General Sternwood makes this observation about orchids. Here, orchids become a symbol for the corruption of his beautiful home as well as the corruption of his own flesh by the ravages of aging. Additionally, orchids are often cited as having a rather sexual character, so Sternwood's observation might also be seen as foreshadowing the sexual corruption that is to come.

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?


Upon first meeting Marlowe, Vivian scrutinizes him and disparages his profession as a private detective. With this line, she epitomizes a condescending rich girl, who has no qualms about being rude to strangers. She tries to cut him down a few pegs, and the effect is rather flirtatious. Her boldness and forthrightness are what so attract Marlowe to Vivian.

Philip Marlowe: Would you happen to have a Ben Hur, eighteen sixty, Third Edition, with the duplicated line on page one-sixteen?...Or a Chevalier Audubon eighteen forty?

ACME Bookstore Proprietress: Nobody would. There isn’t one.

Philip Marlowe: The girl in Geiger’s bookstore didn’t know that.

Philip Marlowe and bookstore owner

After getting turned away by Agnes at Geiger's bookstore, Marlowe goes across the street to the ACME bookstore and asks for the same books that he asked for at Geiger's. The difference is, the salesgirl at ACME knows enough about books to know that the ones he's asking for don't exist. The fact that Agnes didn't know that is proof enough to Marlowe that Geiger's bookstore is a front.