Based on Raymond Chandler's novel, a private detective is hired to handle a blackmailer and discovers a series of murders and killings.
Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is a shamus and meets seductive Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers). General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) tells Marlowe he is being blackmailed and shows him Carmen's gambling debts. Vivian Sternwood Rutledge (Lauren Bacall) questions Marlowe. He tries to find Geiger at his rare bookstore and gets help from an attractive woman in the bookstore across the street. Marlowe follows Geiger's car, and at his house he hears a woman's scream and shots. The car leaves, and Marlowe discovers Geiger dead and Carmen drugged. Marlowe finds a notebook with names. He takes Carmen home and tells Vivian and the butler that she has not been out.
Inspector Bernie Ohls (Regis Toomey) comes to see Marlowe at 2 a.m. They see a car pulled out of the water and learn the driver Owen Taylor was probably killed before the crash. Vivian is waiting for Marlowe and shows him a photo valued at $5,000. Marlowe goes to Geiger's bookstore, sees they are moving, and follows them. At Geiger's house Carmen tells him that Joe Brody killed Geiger. Eddie Mars (John Ridgely) comes in and sees blood, and he has two men search Marlowe. Vivian calls Marlowe and says the blackmailer didn't call. Marlowe says he'll wait but goes out and sees Vivian. He calls on Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt), Agnes (Sonia Darrin), and Vivian. Marlowe accuses Brody of shooting Geiger and demands the photo. Carmen comes in with a gun. Brody tries to grab it, but Marlowe gets it. Brody gives Marlowe the photos, and Vivian and Carmen leave. Marlowe questions Brody about the second murder. Brody goes to the door and is shot. Marlowe chases the killer, who shoots at him. Marlowe picks up Lash Canino and says he shot the wrong guy because Brody did not kill Geiger. Marlowe takes Canino to Geiger's and in a fight kicks him unconscious. Marlowe calls Bernie, who arrests Canino.
Marlowe finds Carmen in his place and pushes her out. Vivian gives Marlowe a check for $500 to pay him off. He goes to see Eddie and hears Vivian sing. Marlowe asks Eddie about Sean Regan and Eddie's wife. Vivian bets $14,000 and wins. Marlowe gets a gun out of his car. A man holds up Vivian, and Marlowe knocks him out. Marlowe kisses her and asks her what Eddie has on her. Bernie tells Marlowe to lay off the Sternwood case. Marlowe calls to talk to General Sternwood, and Vivian tells him they found Sean Regan in Mexico. Two men beat up Marlowe and say, "Lay off." Harry Jones (Elisha Cook Jr.) was following Marlowe and helps him. Harry plans to marry Agnes and wants $200 for information where Eddie's wife is. They plan to meet Agnes. Marlowe hears Eddie's man question Harry, who takes a drink and dies. Agnes calls, and Marlowe meets her and gives her $200. She says where Eddie's wife is. Marlowe goes there and is knocked out. He wakes tied up and sees Eddie's wife and Vivian. Marlowe says that Eddie hires killers, and his wife walks out. Vivian kisses Marlowe and cuts him loose. Marlowe is handcuffed and gets a gun from his car. Marlowe shoots Canino, and Vivian unlocks the handcuffs. She says she is in love with Marlowe but implies that she killed Sean Regan. Marlowe calls Eddie and waits to surprise him. Marlowe asks Eddie why Carmen killed Sean Regan. Marlowe shoots Eddie to make him go out, and his men, expecting Marlowe, kill him. Marlowe calls Bernie and says that Eddie killed Sean Regan. Marlowe and Vivian are happy to be together.
The audience follows this complicated story from the
detective's viewpoint through snappy dialog and various turns,
but much of the underworld immorality in the novel has been censored
from the film version.