Marlowe listens in at the door of the room where he was told to meet Agnes and Jones. He hears Jones talking to a man who announces himself as “Canino,” someone who works for Eddie Mars. Slowly Marlowe pushes open the door of a neighboring room, and hears Canino asking Jones why he’s been following Marlowe. He sees Jones in silhouette in the next room over, and Jones eventually tells Canino that he’s following Marlowe on orders from Agnes, who needs money to get out of town. When Canino asks why Marlowe is willing to pay Agnes, Jones tells Canino that Carmen was there the night Carol Lundgren killed Joe Brody, and that Marlowe hasn’t told the police. We see Marlowe’s face as Joe explains to Canino that they just wanted Marlowe’s money for Agnes’s departure from the city.
The camera reveals Canino, as he pulls a gun out of his jacket and points it at Jones. “Where’s the girl?” he asks, as Jones looks terrified and gives Canino Agnes’s address. “I ain’t gonna hurt her, as long as everything’s as you say,” says Canino menacingly, before asking Jones for a drink. Jones, wide-eyed and terrified, directs Canino over to the water cooler where the glasses are. Marlowe hides and watches Canino fix himself a drink through the glass divider between the rooms. Canino brings a drink over to Jones and orders him to drink it, but Jones hesitates, thinking it’s poison. Jones finally drinks it and instantly dies; it was poison. Marlowe comes into the room and watches as Jones falls to the floor. He goes to the phone and urgently calls Agnes at the address that Jones gave to Canino, but no one with her description lives there. Marlowe realizes that Jones gave Canino the wrong address, and hangs up. Marlowe sits down and waits. He is at a loss. Suddenly the phone rings, and Marlowe picks it up. It’s Agnes, and Marlowe tells her that Jones died, and that he can bring her her money soon. She gives him an address and he tells her he’ll be there in a half an hour. As he hangs up, he looks once again at Harry Jones and goes out.
At the agreed-upon meeting place, Marlowe climbs into the back of a car, where he finds Agnes waiting for him. After Marlowe gives her the money, Agnes tells him that she saw Eddie Mars’ wife a few weeks ago driving a brown car with Canino. She then tells Marlowe where he can find Mrs. Mars, living in a house behind a garage and paint shop 10 miles east of Realito. They say their goodbyes and Marlowe leaves, intending to head towards Mrs. Mars’ hiding spot. The scene shifts and we see Marlowe’s car driving down a foggy road towards Realito.
He pulls his car up in front of the auto garage that Agnes told him about and skids off the road to give the impression that he’s had an accident. Marlowe then gets out and lets some air out of his tire to give himself a flat. He inspects the exterior of the garage, before knocking on the door and telling the owner, Art Huck, that he has a flat tire. Art replies that he’s closed for the night. Marlowe won’t take no for an answer and bangs on the door. Art promptly answers it, holding a gun and letting Marlowe in. When he enters, Marlowe notices Canino, who stands nearby and urges Art to help Marlowe out. Art finally agrees to do so, and begins gathering tools to start fixing Marlowe’s car. Camino questions Marlowe about why he’s there, as suspenseful music plays. Suddenly, Art comes up behind Marlowe and pulls back his arms, while Canino punches Marlowe in the face, knocking him out. “Take him in the house,” Canino orders Art.
When Marlowe comes to, he is tied up on the floor in the house behind the garage, and he awakens to see Mrs. Mars, who comes over and gives him a sip of a drink to revive him. She admits that she’s Mrs. Mars, and when Marlowe asks her where Sean Regan is, she responds, “I’d like to know that myself.” Vivian enters the room. “You don’t seem to be running in front today,” she tells him, referring to his having been tied up, and he asks her to turn off the light. When he asks her where the men have gone, she begins to scold him for getting too involved, but he wants to know where they’ve gone, finally deducing that they’ve gone to call Eddie Mars and ask what to do with him. Marlowe chuckles at the thought, and asks Vivian to light him a cigarette. Mrs. Mars asks, “why did you have to make trouble? Eddie never did you any harm. Besides, I was never in love with Sean. We were just good friends.” Marlowe suggests that Eddie had Sean Regan killed, but Mrs. Mars doesn’t believe that her husband would ever commit such violence.
Marlowe takes this opportunity to tell Mrs. Mars that he was tipped off to her location by Harry Jones, a man who was killed by Canino, an employee of Mars’. Mrs. Mars doesn’t believe him, but Marlowe is determined to convince Mrs. Mars that her husband is “a blackmailer, a hot-car broker, a killer by remote control. He's anything that looks good to him, anything with money pinned to it, anything rotten.” As Marlowe says this, Mrs. Mars throws water in his face and storms out. Rather comically, he turns to Vivian and says, “Well, that got rid of her. She’s okay, I like her.” Vivian kneels on the ground beside Marlowe, and he says that they will just have to wait until Canino comes back. He then goes on a tangent that reveals that he knows Vivian is partnered with Eddie Mars. “Will you get out of this and stay out if I let you go?” she asks him, but he quickly tells her, “No.” He asks her to take the cigarette out of his mouth and they kiss passionately. He then orders her to cut the ropes tying him up, protectively instructing her how to do so. As he asks if there’s a gun anywhere or a key to his handcuffs, they hear a car pull into the driveway.
Marlowe stands and goes to the window, worried about the fast arrival of the dangerous Canino. He then tells Vivian that he’s going to make a run for it and leave her in a tough spot, but she assures him that she doesn’t mind. Marlowe then instructs her to count to 20 while he escapes out the side door and then scream. She agrees and Marlowe goes out the door. He watches Canino and Art get out of the car, when suddenly Vivian starts screaming. The two gangsters run into the house and Marlowe takes this opportunity to run to his car and get a gun out of his glove compartment. He sees Art come out of the house tentatively with a gun. When Marlowe fires his gun into the air, Art runs away immediately. He then sees Canino peeking out a window of the house. Canino shoots his gun a few times, then brings Vivian out to use her as a shield.
Canino walks with Vivian in front of him towards the car. Seeing an opportunity, Vivian falsely leads him to believe that Marlowe is behind the wheel of the car, and Canino hastily fires his gun. As he does, Marlowe emerges from behind the car and shoots Canino three times, killing him. Marlowe retrieves the key to his handcuffs from Canino’s pocket and gets Vivian to unlock them. They then get into Canino’s car and drive away through the rain and fog. In the car, Marlowe asks how long it takes to get to a telephone from the house, and Vivian informs him it’s about 8 to 10 miles. “When Eddie Mars’s wife gets my car fixed, and he finds out what happened, there’ll be plenty of trouble. You’ll be in it just as much as I will,” he tells her. “I don’t mind, as long as you’re around,” she tells him. Marlowe then thanks Vivian for her help in killing Canino, and she says in a comically wry tone, “I guess I’m in love with you.”
Marlowe wants to go to the police, but Vivian doesn’t want to, suggesting that she killed Sean Regan. “Would you tell the police that?” he asks her, to which she responds, “I will if you take me there.” Marlowe decides that he’s not going to go to the police, and just wants to get out of the blackmailing plot without involving the police. Indeed, he believes that if they go to the police, everything will only get more complicated, and they will want to know what happened to Sean Regan, why Eddie Mars made it look like his wife ran off with Sean Regan, and why Vivian was at the house. Vivian begins to confess what happened, but Marlowe doesn’t want to hear it, determined to interrogate Eddie Mars about what actually happened. When Vivian asks him why he’s doing that, he echoes back her own words, “I guess I’m in love with you.”
They drive to Geiger’s house, where Marlowe telephones Eddie Mars. He tells him that Canino is dead and lies that he is calling from Realito. Then, he tells Eddie he wants to meet, and Eddie proposes they meet at Geiger’s house. Marlowe lies that it’ll take him awhile to get there, and hangs up. “You’re taking an awful chance,” Vivian tells him, and Marlowe tells her Eddie Mars will be there in 10 minutes. He instructs her to lock the back door and close the curtains while he gets rid of the car. Once that is done, Marlowe loads a gun anxiously as they wait for Eddie to arrive. Suddenly they hear Mars’ car pull up. Mars gets out with three men, and Marlowe tells Vivian to watch the back door and scream if anyone gets through. Mars’s associates split up and Mars approaches the front door, as Marlowe hides in the corner.
Mars enters the house hesitantly and turns on a lamp as Marlowe emerges from behind a curtain holding out his gun. Eddie raises his hands and Marlowe searches him for a gun, finding nothing. Marlowe brings Mars over to the couch, and Vivian comes in to tell him that there are two men in the back. As Mars sits on the couch, Marlowe advises him to leave Vivian alone, as she hasn’t done anything wrong. He also tells Eddie Mars that Vivian took responsibility for the death of Sean Regan, but that he didn’t believe her. “It was Carmen, wasn’t it?” he asks Mars, and Mars admits that Carmen liked Regan. Putting the pieces together, Marlowe suggests that Sean Regan didn’t like Carmen back, favoring Mrs. Mars instead, so Carmen got even by killing him. Mars admits that it’s true, saying, “She was pretty high. By the time it was over, she couldn’t remember much about it.”
Marlowe goes on. He believes that Mars hid Sean Regan’s body, but Mars insists that he won’t be able to prove that. “It’ll be just as bad for you if I prove it to myself,” Marlowe retorts. Marlowe continues, surmising that following the incident, Mars began to blackmail Vivian about Carmen’s deed, but what he cannot figure out is why Mars didn’t recognize Carmen when they met at Geiger’s that day. Marlowe suggests that Mars was hired by Vivian to help cover up her sister’s indiscretion, but that Mars soon began to take advantage of his knowledge, blackmailing Vivian and taking her gambling winnings. Mars believes that his men will kill Marlowe, and so admits that Marlowe’s discoveries are true.
However, Marlowe has turned the table on Mars by arriving first. He instructs Vivian to lie down on the floor, and as Eddie Mars rises from the couch, Marlowe shoots the camera that was used to take the pornographic photos of Carmen. He then shoots Eddie Mars in the arm, wounding him, and ordering him to go outside. Mars’s men, waiting for the emergence of Marlowe, are poised to shoot the first person to come out of the house, because they believe that it will be Marlowe. Little do they know, it is in fact Mars who will emerge.
Fearing Marlowe’s gunfire, Mars runs out of the house, yelling to his men not to shoot, but they do anyway, killing their boss. Mars’s body falls into the room as Vivian stands up beside Marlowe. Marlowe kicks the door closed and goes to the phone, on which he calls Bernie. Marlowe tells Bernie that Eddie Mars’ boys killed him. He then lies, telling Bernie that Mars was the one who killed Regan, covering up Carmen’s misdeed. He then asks Bernie to come with help, and to be careful, as the gunmen may still be outside. After he hangs up, Marlowe tells Vivian to let him do the talking, and that he’ll mostly tell the truth. He then tells her that she ought to send Carmen away, to cure her of her nymphomania. Slyly, Vivian says, “You’ve forgotten one thing: Me.” Marlowe smirks and asks, “What’s wrong with you.” She stares at him adoringly and says, “Nothing you can’t fix,” and they are interrupted by the blaring of a police siren.
Marlowe’s ability to go off the beaten path in the pursuit of answers continues to serve him in this portion of the film. When he arrives at the place where he is set to hand over the money to Harry Jones, he hesitates at the door, and waits on the other side of a room divider in order to listen to the conversation between Canino and Jones. Marlowe has an uncanny intuition and a knack for knowing how to stay out of trouble. Even though he was beaten up by Eddie Mars’ thugs in the previous scene, he maintains a collected sense of his own savvy and ability to sniff out the truth, even in the face of danger. By listening in on Canino and Jones, Marlowe is able to avoid more trouble.
The way that Marlowe’s spying is shot heightens the suspense and the tone of moody mystery that pervades the film. When he quietly enters the room, unnoticed by Canino and Jones, we see Jones’ silhouette through the room divider, and hear the men’s voices. The shadow of the silhouette is a stark and dramatic image, and Marlowe watches the interaction as though watching a stage play, searching for answers in the men’s conversation. Filming Marlowe’s spying in this way mirrors the mysterious way that story and truth are revealed. Marlowe’s grasp of the truth comes from his ability to look through the murkiness, to never take any man at his word, and to look beneath the surface by spying and remaining silent. In the way that the scene looks like a play, we are reminded just how often the participants in this mystery are lying or performing. In The Big Sleep, as in most noir, the truth is always covered by a fog of mystery, deception, and performance.
Indeed, The Big Sleep uses many components of the common visual vocabulary of traditional noir. Throughout, the lighting is stark and dramatic, creating the effect of chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is a term from the Renaissance that signifies a high contrast between dark and light, and it is a common feature of film noir. The Big Sleep often feels as though it is taking place in the evening, and people’s faces are often lit dramatically, or at other moments, shown in silhouette. Additionally, smoke, mist, and fog are used throughout the film to create eerie atmospheres and spooky settings. Not only that, but the fog can be seen as having symbolic significance: it alludes to the obscured or mysterious aspects of the plot. Just as Marlowe is driving through a physically foggy landscape, his mind is also foggy, and he is struggling to find his way through the events of the film.
In the final section of the film, Marlowe proves that his investment in the mystery of Eddie Mars is tied up in his love and concern for Vivian Rutledge. Marlowe has had no "business" interest in the case for awhile now, but he sticks around to try and lure Vivian out of her dangerous position, and to convince her that Eddie Mars is a low-life criminal. When she asks, “Will you get out of this and stay out if I let you go?” he indirectly communicates his commitment to her by assuring her that he is not willing to walk away from the case. While he has no ties to Mars’ schemes and could easily walk away to safety, he now wants to become a knight in shining armor for the vulnerable Vivian, to rescue her from the mess she’s found herself in. She too feels safer by his side; when he warns her of the danger they’ve put themselves in by killing Canino, she tells him, “I don’t mind, as long as you’re around.” What has been a properly twisted noir becomes a romance.
While The Big Sleep is one of the quintessential American film noirs, and is considered one of the best, it is also known for being unbelievably confusing, complicated, even convoluted. The plot throughout is dense and driven by constant surprises. There are so many characters, all of whom seem to be interrelated in the most unusual ways, and the viewer spends much of the film in the dark, just like Marlowe. Allegedly, during filming, Humphrey Bogart asked Howard Hawks whether Owen Taylor the chauffeur killed himself or was murdered, and Hawks couldn’t tell him. Stumped, the team called up Raymond Chandler, the author of the original novel, and even he didn’t know. Despite its somewhat implausible complexity, the film is suspenseful and exciting throughout. Thus, we see that noir is defined as much by its tone and aesthetic attributes as it is by an airtight plot. Indeed, the plot is flawed, but it seems to make no difference. The answers at the end of the film add up to a satisfying conclusion that does not disappoint.