Neil Jordan’s neo-noir crime thriller film ‘Marlowe’ brings back to the screen the iconic brooding detective Philip Marlowe, created by novelist Raymond Chandler. Despite the character and his mannerisms being the same, ‘Marlowe’ is not based on any Chandler novel but is instead adapted from William John Banville’s “The Black-Eyed Blonde.” The plot here involves a private detective in the 1930s investigating the disappearance of a man named Nico Peterson after he is appointed to do so by the daughter of a famous actress of yesteryears. Despite all its attempts to maintain the tenor of noir or good neo-noir films, “Marlowe” ultimately presents nothing new or fascinating through its plot, characters, or motivations.
‘Marlowe’ Plot Summary: What Happens In The Film?
At his office in Los Angeles, overlooking the glitzy Hollywood part of town, Philip Marlowe is visited by a young woman. Clare Cavendish, a potential client, wants to hire Marlowe to find a particular man named Nico Peterson. Despite being married, Clare is habituated to having a string of lovers, as she herself admits, and Nico had been one such lover of hers. But, unlike other men who Clare wanted to avoid after a point of time, just the opposite had happened with Nico, as he had gone missing while Clare still wanted to be in touch with him. Convincing the private detective that she wants to know where her lover has suddenly disappeared, Clare appoints Marlowe to investigate. She also provides more information on Nico, who worked as a prop manager at the Pacific Film Studios. The two had met at a private club restricted to the wealthy named the Corbata Club and would continue their romance mostly there until the man stopped receiving calls and his house was also found to be empty by Clare.
Taking up the case, Marlowe visits the house too and learns from a neighbor that some more men had also come looking for Nico a few days earlier, but the man had already been missing for over a month. The detective next checks in with the police department, where he still has contacts owing to the fact that he used to work as a police detective earlier. It is from the police that Marlowe learns of Nico Peterson’s death, which had occurred a few days earlier, as the man was killed in a hit-and-run case on a stretch of road outside the Corbata Club. As things start to appear suspicious, Marlowe tries to enter the club in order to investigate but is denied access. When he confronts Clare about the death, she agrees that she had not been completely honest earlier, for she knew about Nico’s apparent death. But she then also claims to have seen Nico alive and well during her recent trip to Mexico, where Nico Peterson used to regularly go in order to get hold of props for the film studio.
Was Nico Peterson Really Dead?
As detective Marlowe continues investigating the matter, more important characters pertaining to the case are introduced to him. Clare Cavendish happens to be the daughter of Dorothy Quincannon, a very celebrated actress in Hollywood who had been a superstar in her younger days. Dorothy had a close relationship with the owner of the Pacific Film Studios, a man who is also at present expected to start work as America’s ambassador to England. The characters keep referring to the man as “the ambassador,” as his position and stature in society overshadow any personal identity of his. Nico Peterson used to work primarily for the ambassador, perhaps hoping to get bigger roles in the industry someday. Marlowe also has a number of run-ins with Dorothy and realizes that the mother suspects something is up between the ambassador, and her daughter Clare. Dorothy obviously suspects something romantic or even sexual, and she even has doubts about Clare’s involvement with Marlowe himself. It is also clear that the mother knew about Nico, but she did not consider the man more than just a distracting lover of her daughter.
On the other side, soon after knowing about Marlowe’s investigation into the apparently false death of Nico, the manager of the Corbata Club, Floyd Hanson, invites the detective to the place. Acting fairly welcoming but also cautious, Hanson tries to find out more about Nico, making it quite evident that he, too, would like to believe that the man had faked his death and had run off somewhere. Marlowe tries to track down Nico’s family, a half-sister named Lynn and runs into her at the club. Lynn promises to meet with him at the Cabana nightclub, but Marlowe is attacked by two men at the place instead. Although he fights them off and safely makes his way out of the nightclub, Lynn is nowhere to be seen. The two finally meet once more when Marlowe breaks into Nico’s house, but this meeting is also interrupted by two men who manage to strike Marlowe down and kidnap Lynn. The sheer grim nature of the whole crime becomes clear to the detective as well as to the viewers when Lynn’s body is found a few days later, as she has been raped and murdered mercilessly. Lynn had actually been a sex worker who frequented both the Corbata Club and the Cabana nightclub, and she clearly knew something about her missing step-brother. While Marlowe tries to find a connection between the missing Nico, his sister, and the men who keep attacking him, Lynn loses her life.
Marlowe is also then introduced to a third major character in the case, Lou Hendricks, who is the owner of the Cabana nightclub and is clearly involved in some shady business. By now, the detective has learned that Nico was a man popular among women, having girlfriends other than Clare Cavendish. It is now also revealed that Nico had been in possession of someone called Serena, and it was for this Serena that both Hendricks and Hanson had been looking for the man. As the plot keeps advancing, it becomes quite clear that Nico Peterson must be indeed alive, for there was a motive for him to have faked his death and fled the country. The Pacific Film Studios owner, the man known as the ambassador, was actually actively involved in heroin smuggling. He would get the drugs from Mexico, and Nico was a direct part of the smuggling ring as he would hide the drugs inside movie props and then bring them back to the USA. The ambassador was also working with both Floyd Hanson and Lou Hendricks, using the Corbata Club and Cabana Nightclub to sell the drugs or further distribute them for sale. However, this neat but illegal business plan had gone all wrong ever since Nico Peterson had apparently gone missing with a significant amount of heroin that Hanson had already paid for. For this reason, Hanson ultimately turns against his own partner, Hendricks, and kidnaps him to interrogate him about the drug’s location. As it turns out, Serena was no woman but rather the name of a plaster mermaid prop that Nico had brought back with him on his last trip from Mexico, and the cocaine had been hidden inside it. Even though Hanson had the prop sitting in his club, he had no idea about this and believed that Nico had run off with the heroin.
During the interrogation, Marlowe breaks into the room along with a man named Cedric, who used to work as the driver for Lou Hendricks. The two men shoot Floyd Hanson dead, and in the gunfire, the mermaid prop drops out of the aquarium inside which it had been stored. Now greedy to get hold of the drugs for himself, Hendricks shouts out at Cedric to catch hold of the prop and the heroin. When Cedric does not do so, Hendricks shouts out racist profanities at the man, making Cedric shoot his former boss dead without any hesitation. Although Cedric must have been used to such comments and words as a Black man in Los Angeles in the 1930s, he had never been in a situation where his boss was so vulnerable. Cedric also perhaps realized that his action would not really have any repercussions since Hendricks could be stated to have been killed in the gunfire with Hanson, and the only witness, detective Marlowe, would surely not tell on him.
Back at his office, Marlowe is now finally visited by Nico Peterson himself, who had fled the US to take shelter in Mexico. He admits that the man who had been passed off as him in the car accident was just a musician in the club. Possibly after the deaths of the two men who had been looking for him with their whole gangs, Nico now returns to meet with Marlowe as well as with his beloved, Clair Cavendish. Nico asks Marlowe to inform Clair that he wants to meet her at the Pacific Film Studios’ prop warehouse that night. Marlowe tells Clair of this, and then he also reaches the place, knowing well that the final drama of the case would play out at this very warehouse.
‘Marlowe’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Nico, Clair, And Marlowe In The End?
When Philip Marlowe reaches the props warehouse, the exact details of the messy affair are revealed, as it is still unclear why exactly Nico had faked his own death. It had earlier been stated that he had not stolen any heroin, so the drug was definitely out of the picture. But, as it turned out, Nico had always kept a record of every drug smuggling transaction that had been made by the ambassador through the movie props of the Pacific Film Studio. The man had extensive proof that the ambassador had used the film studio to indulge in the illegal drug trade that was, more often than not, running the entire Hollywood industry. Nico had suspected that the ambassador had learned of the records he had with him, and out of fear for his life, the man had staged his death and fled the country. While Hendricks and Hanson tried to track him down, thinking that the man had stolen drugs, the ambassador was shrewd enough to appoint someone else—Clair Cavendish. Clair had indeed been working with the ambassador all this time out of competitive jealousy against her mother. Clair always wanted a position for herself and wanted an individual identity rather than being the daughter or wife of so and so (as mentioned multiple times in her dialogues), and she knew that it was only the ambassador who could help her do so. In order to retrieve the records of drug smuggling and sales from Nico, with whom she had faked being in love, Clair had appointed detective Marlowe.
Now, when she and Nico finally meet at the warehouse, Nico still has no idea about Clair’s real plan. He proposes his love for the woman, also adding how the records and the information against the ambassador would completely destroy the man. However, Clair now pulls out a gun and shoots Nico dead, and she also destroys all the documents that the man had kept. Even though Marlowe remains a witness to the entire act, he does not try to stop Clair, knowing well that the case is too convoluted for him to successfully prove Clair and the ambassador’s crime. A few days later, Marlowe goes to meet with Clair once again, and the woman is now an executive at the Pacific Film Studio, as this was what had been promised to her by the ambassador. Clair offers Marlowe a job at the studio as the head of security, but the veteran detective rejects it, probably not wanting to get involved in the dark and dangerous mess that Hollywood was at the time. Marlowe does not walk away with the satisfaction of having brought to justice the real perpetrators of the crime, as is often the case in detective films. The man does not appear perturbed by this either, and he is rather pleased to have made a new friend through the case—Cedric, to whom he offers the job of being the studio’s head of security. Perhaps knowing that he still has to have a life amidst crime, Cedric happily agrees to the offer.