The Big Sleep (1946 Film)

The Big Sleep (1946 Film) Summary and Analysis of Part 3: The Geiger Case


Marlowe sits down and the man asks him who he is. He tells him he’s a private detective hired by the girl, but lies that they had come to Geiger’s house to talk things over with Carmen. The man then reveals that he is Mr. Geiger’s landlord and owns the building, asking Marlowe what he thinks about the situation. Marlowe tells him that he thinks either Geiger was killed or Geiger killed someone and ran away, but he cannot be sure. When the man tells Marlowe that he doesn’t understand Marlowe’s aim, saying, “I don’t get your game here,” Marlowe responds straightforwardly, “Don’t you Mr. Mars?” The man, apparently Eddie Mars, questions Marlowe further about Geiger’s participation in some kind of racket, and Marlowe tells him that someone cleared out of the back of Geiger’s store the previous day.

Marlowe asks Mars if he really has boys waiting outside like he said, and Mars whistles to invite them in the house. Two thugs rush into the house, and Mars instructs them to look Marlowe over, which they do dutifully, frisking him. One of the thugs reads Marlowe’s identification to Mars, confirming that he is who he says he is. Mars orders them to go outside, and Eddie Mars reveals that the thugs’ names are Sidney and Pete. Mars takes the opportunity to question Marlowe, asking him who was cleaning out the back of Geiger’s store, but Marlowe resists telling him. When Mars threatens Marlowe, Marlowe recommends he call the cops like he said he would, but Mars tells him to get lost. Marlowe leaves.

Back in his office, Marlowe paces, thinking of what to do next, when he is interrupted by the sound of both a siren outside and the telephone ringing. When he picks up it is Vivian Rutledge with news about her phone conversation. Vivian informs him that she didn’t receive a phone call from the woman looking for the bribe money, so has nothing to report. She tells him that she has acquired the $5000 and that she’ll get in touch with him as soon as she gets the call, to which he responds that he will stay in his office waiting for her call. As Marlowe hangs up the phone, suspenseful music plays, and he abruptly leaves the office.

We see the street sign for Randall Place, then Marlowe pulling his car up in front of the Randall Arms apartment complex. He waits in the car for a moment, then sees Vivian Rutledge pull up, get out of her car, and go into the apartment complex. Marlowe continues to wait in the car for a moment, then follows her in. He climbs the stairs and goes to room 105, where he buzzes the door. A man answers it, and when Marlowe asks after Geiger, “the fellow with the blackmail racket,” the man tells him that he doesn’t know anyone by that name. Marlowe correctly identifies the man as Joe Brody, Geiger’s former sales assistant, and Joe continues to feign ignorance, but when he tries to close the door on Marlowe, Marlowe stops him, insisting that they ought to talk to one another—“You’ve got Geiger’s stuff, I’ve got his sucker list, don’t you think we ought to talk things over?” Joe hesitantly invites Marlowe into his apartment.

As Marlowe walks into the apartment, Joe pulls out a gun and points it at Marlowe’s back. Marlowe realizes and tauntingly says, “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.” He then tells Joe Brody that the other guy was Eddie Mars, and when Joe tells him he doesn’t know Eddie, Marlowe responds, “If he gets wise to where you were last night, you’ll hear of him.” Joe Brody says he doesn’t know about Eddie Mars, and assures Marlowe that he’s just being careful. Marlowe retorts that he hasn’t been careful enough, telling Brody that he saw what happened at Geiger’s the previous evening. When Joe asks for Marlowe’s story, Marlowe invites whoever is hiding behind a nearby curtain to show themselves. It’s the woman from Geiger’s bookstore, whose name we learn is Agnes. Marlowe then asks Vivian to come out, which she does, head held high. “What did you come up here for?” she asks him, and he confronts her about lying to him. Vivian tells him to leave, but Marlowe says he can’t, as Brody is pointing a gun at them.

Brody points his gun at Marlowe and Vivian and gets them to sit down as the couple continues bickering, Vivian urging Marlowe to stay out of it. Brody then interrupts them to ask Marlowe what he’s doing there. Marlowe responds, “To keep her from paying you off, and to take the cops off your neck.” Agnes, Joe, and Vivian look confused and ask what the cops want. Marlowe informs them that the cops found Geiger’s body, and that he knows that Joe Brody killed Geiger. Vivian is startled to hear that Geiger is dead, as Marlowe informs Joe, “He wasn’t alone when you shot him.” Marlowe continues to elaborate on his theory, that Joe got scared, grabbed the film from the camera, came back the next day to hide Geiger’s body, and cleaned out the Geiger bookstore before the cops could catch up with them. Joe Brody smiles and says, “You take chances, Mister. It’s lucky for you I didn’t shoot Geiger.” Marlowe threatens Brody that he can frame him for the murder, since there was a witness. “You mean Carmen, she’d say anything,” says Brody, and Marlowe believes he’s caught Brody. “So you have got that picture,” Marlowe says, before continuing, “You see, Joe, either you were there last night, or you got the picture from somebody who was there. You knew Carmen was there because you had your girlfriend threaten Mrs. Rutledge.” Marlowe believes that the only way Brody could know about all of it is by having been there, or having the photograph of Carmen and knowing where and when it was taken.

Brody makes a last-ditch effort to pay off Marlowe, but Marlowe wants the photograph. As Brody goes to get it, the door buzzes, and he advises everyone to stay put, still holding his gun. Going to the desk, Brody pulls out another gun, hands it to Agnes, and tells her to watch Marlowe. He then answers the door slowly and puts up his hands, retreating from the visitor. Carmen walks in, pointing a gun at Brody and telling him that she wants her picture back. Marlowe manages to get Agnes’s gun out of her hand, as Brody disarms Carmen by tripping her. Marlowe collects all of the guns (including Brody’s) and orders Brody to retrieve the photograph, which he pulls of the desk. As he hands Marlowe the envelope, Marlowe tells him that “there better not be any more prints.” Brody assures him that there won’t be, and Carmen asks Marlowe for her picture and her gun. As she begins to bite her thumb seductively, Marlowe knocks her hand out of her mouth, as Vivian looks on, worried. Marlowe instructs Vivian to take Carmen home, and tells her not to lie to him again. The sisters leave, but not before Carmen strikes Brody in the face.

As Joe closes the door angrily behind him, Marlowe insists that they have more to talk about, and sits down on the arm of the couch. Marlowe asks him why he asked Vivian for the $5000, and Brody tells him that he had already tapped Mr. Sternwood, and didn’t think he would fall for it again. “What made you think that Mrs. Rutledge wouldn’t tell him?” Marlowe asks, but without skipping a beat, Brody responds, “How well do you know her?” Marlowe then asks him how he came into possession of the photograph, and Brody tells him that he handed it over for cheap and that they should forget about the whole thing. Marlowe asks again where Brody got the picture, and Brody tells him that it fell out of someone’s pocket. “You got an alibi for last night?” Marlowe asks, and Brody insists that he was at home with Agnes. Agnes laughs sarcastically, suggesting that Brody was not there the previous night. Marlowe asks Brody where he was at 7:30 the previous night, and finally Brody admits that he was watching Geiger's house, sitting in his car, behind two other cars—one in front of the house, and the other down the hill a bit. He then reveals that there was a Packard nearby, the same kind of car that Owen Taylor was driving when he died. Brody tells Marlowe that nothing happened and he went home.

Marlowe then tells Brody that the Packard was discovered underwater off Lido Pier, and Brody becomes defensive. “You can’t pin that on me!” he says, standing, but Marlowe orders him to sit back down and tells him that he can try to pin it on him if he wants. Marlowe goes on to explain that Owen Taylor had followed Carmen to Geiger’s because he was in love with her and wanted to protect her from Geiger. Marlowe then tells Brody that Owen Taylor killed Geiger and ran away with the film. Brody, Marlowe suggests, must have followed Taylor and taken the film from him. Here, Brody admits that he heard the gunshots and followed Taylor. When Taylor pulled over a little ways down the road, Brody went up to his car and pretended to be a cop, promptly knocking Taylor out and taking the film from him, figuring it must be worth something. Marlowe doesn’t buy this story, wondering how an unconscious man could have possibly driven off a pier. When Brody insists that he didn’t do it, Marlowe snaps back, “somebody did.”

Marlowe continues to question Brody, telling him that he doesn’t want to frame him for murder, he just wants to find out what Geiger had on the Sternwoods. They are interrupted by the door buzzing, and Marlowe urges Brody to answer it, but forbids him from taking a gun. When Brody answers the door, he is immediately shot twice by an unseen assailant. Agnes screams as Marlowe runs out the door, catching just a glimpse of the shooter, running down the stairs. Marlowe chases him downstairs and out the door. The shooter shoots at Marlowe, who crouches behind a pillar before hopping in his car to chase the shooter. Marlowe drives a bit before pulling into a spot and hiding behind his window as the shooter walks down the sidewalk nearby. Marlowe jumps out of the car and points his gun at Carol Lundgren, as we hear the sound of a cop siren nearby. “What’ll it be, me or the cops?” Marlowe asks, and ushers Carol into his car, telling him to drive. Marlowe informs him that they’re going to Geiger’s house, and that he has killed the wrong man, as Brody did not kill Geiger. As the cops drive away, Lundgren drives Marlowe’s car to Geiger’s.

At Geiger’s, Marlowe escorts Lundgren into the house. When he asks for Lundgren to hand over the key, Lundgren punches him in the face suddenly. Marlowe simply smiles and throws the gun on the ground for Lundgren. When Lundgren reaches down for it, Marlowe kicks him in the face, rendering him unconscious. He then takes the key from Lundgren’s pocket and drags Lundgren’s limp body into the house, where he ties the young criminal up. After inspecting the house, Marlowe finds Geiger’s body on a bed in the back room. He goes into the room where Lundgren is tied up and calls up Bernie, telling him that he has “cold meat” for him, referring to Lundgren and Geiger. Marlowe asks Bernie if they found a gun on Owen Taylor’s body, but Bernie won’t tell him, so he invites him to Geiger’s house to arrest Lundgren and examine Geiger’s body. Bernie arrives and questions Carol Lundgren. Lundren doesn’t tell him anything, but it's clear he killed Joe Brody, and Bernie arrests him.

The scene shifts to a restaurant, as Vivian enters. She walks up to the bar, where she finds Marlowe and greets him, apologizing for her lateness. The maitre’d leads them to a table, and each of them order a drink with scotch. “Why’d you want to see me?” asks Marlowe. Vivian expresses her gratitude, and begins to pull out his payment, but Marlowe is surprised to hear that she and General Sternwood think the case is closed. She hands him a check for $500, more than he expected, and thanks him again. Vivian flirts with him, and asks if he ever pursues relationships outside of work, and if he’d ever be interested in seeing her romantically. After Marlowe tells her that he likes horse races, Vivian tells him that she does as well. The couple have a conversation about horse racing that is a witty and thinly veiled double-entendre-laden discussion about their sexual preferences. Vivian characterizes Marlowe as a horse that doesn’t like to be rated; “you like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, then come home free,” she says, clearly referencing his sexuality. She then asks Marlowe to assess her, and tell her what makes her “run.” He interrupts their suggestive conversation, however, to directly ask her why she is trying to get him to stop working on their case; he asks, “Who told you to sugar me off this case, was it Eddie Mars?”

Vivian looks stricken at the mention of Eddie Mars, and admits that it wasn’t her father who told her to pay Marlowe, but that she used her own judgment. “What’s Eddie Mars got to do with this case?” Marlowe asks directly, but Vivian won’t tell him, insisting that they know each other from gambling, that’s all. Marlowe then reveals that Sean Regan supposedly ran off with Eddie Mars’ wife, and that Mars owns the house in which Geiger was doing business. “What’s Eddie Mars got on you?” he asks her, but Vivian says nothing. They say their goodbyes, with Marlowe telling her that maybe they can pursue a relationship once the case is solved, but in the meantime they cannot. Vivian says her goodbyes and leaves. Marlowe asks the waiter where the phone is, and goes over to call Eddie Mars. Mars answers and Marlowe asks to drive over and meet him that evening, to which Eddie agrees.


This section of the film introduces us to a number of unsavory villains. First is Eddie Mars, a brutish gangster type who travels with a duo of dim-witted thugs as backup. Mars’ smooth deception and threats of force strike an unsettling tone. He clearly knows something more than he is letting on, and has no qualms about using violence to get what he wants. In spite of his good looks and generally innocent comportment, he is a slippery and untrustworthy fellow, calling in his two thugs to frisk Marlowe, offering up threats, and trying to intimidate Marlowe from sniffing around too much.

Brute force becomes a central thread in this portion of the film, as Marlowe finds himself in more and more danger. First Mars threatens Marlowe with physical force, and then Joe Brody pulls a gun on him when he enters Brody’s apartment. In the unseemly underworld that Marlowe has found himself investigating, the use of violence is common practice. The men who run the gambling and blackmail racket have no moral center that prevents them from resorting to force and coercion. As the various pieces of the puzzle become clearer, the stakes of the danger rise as well.

Marlowe is a competent match for these thuggish villains, however, and barely misses a beat when presented with the threat of violence. His attitude towards Eddie Mars is one of irreverent bemusement, and when Joe Brody pulls a gun on him, he keeps his hands in his pockets, disparages Joe for his apparent stupidity and reliance on violent means, and orders him to lower his gun. In The Big Sleep, criminals use weapons and intimidation, but their opponent, Marlowe, has no need for such approaches, favoring wit and strategy instead. Marlowe is able to disarm all of his opponents, all the while maintaining a calm and unflappable comportment, and still managing to walk away with a few more answers.

The film is fast-paced and packed to the gills with complicated plot, often taking confusing twists and turns in a matter of seconds. Clarifying information is disseminated gradually and unexpectedly, as Marlowe follows his intuitions through the relentlessly deceptive mystery of the Sternwood’s affairs. Just as the world of crime is mysterious, deceptive, and constantly shifting, so too is the film's plot. The solidity of Marlowe helps to anchor the viewer in what is an endlessly unfolding plot. Even if he tells some lies along the way and plays along in order to find answers, Marlowe is grounded by his investment in the truth, and his unswerving desire to get to the bottom of things.

Yet another villain in this section of the film is Carol Lundgren, who recklessly shoots Joe Brody to avenge the death of Geiger, even though Brody did not shoot Geiger at all. Lundgren is young and seemingly impulsive, killing Brody immediately and punching Marlowe when they arrive at Geiger’s house. In his recklessness and emotionality, Lundgren can be viewed as a kind of foil for Marlowe. Where Marlowe is deliberate and persistent, Lundgren is reactive and hot-blooded. He is not a strategist. Rather, he wants to avenge his business associate’s death immediately and run from the scene. While Marlowe represents the pursuit of the truth, Lundgren is a scared criminal, who messily seeks retribution. Throughout, Marlowe is presented as a macho hero, unflappable and unwavering. The film’s depiction of him suggests that Marlowe is a good detective precisely because he is such a no-nonsense and traditionally masculine man, without the fears and insecurities that bog down other inferior types of men.