Marlowe: Plot Summary & Ending Explained: Some movie characters become emblematic of the genre itself. Philip Marlowe, the detective created by Raymond Chandler, had become the unofficial face of the noir genre itself. The 1946 Howard Hawks film The Big Sleep introduced the character of Marlowe to a wider audience and codified the elements of the noir genre: a hard focus on the investigative aspects, an extremely convoluted plot, rapid-fire dialogues, and a female character who teeters between an ally and a femme fatale. Marlowe was then used as a character in other adaptations, with his last appearance in the 1978 TV adaptation of “Farewell, My Lovely,” starring the great Robert Mitchum.

Neil Jordan’s film “Marlowe” is adapted from John Banville’s 2014 novel “The Black Eyed Blonde,” written under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. The adaptation is filmed from a screenplay penned by William Monahan (The Departed) and director Neil Jordan.

Marlowe (2022) Plot Summary

Like the beginning of any noir, the detective is visited by the moll, the damsel in distress, a young and beautiful client who wants the detective to find her lover. The trope crystallizes in the beginning here, where Private Dick Philip Marlowe (Liam Neeson) is visited by Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger), who wants to hire him to find her lover Nico Peterson, a props master at Pacific Film Studios.

Marriage hasn’t stopped Clare Cavendish from having a string of lovers, much to her mother’s chagrin, yesteryear actress Dorothy Quincannon (Jessica Lange). But unlike other men she pushed away once she was bored, Nico disappeared while she was still interested in continuing the relationship. She reveals that she had met him at a private club called The Cobara Club and would continue their romance within the secrecy of that club until he stopped taking her calls and she found his house empty.

Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger in Marlowe (2022)
Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger in Marlowe (2022)

Marlowe confirms her statement about the house being empty once he begins to investigate and learns from a neighbor that he has been missing for over a month. Marlowe hadn’t been the first person to ask about Peterson, as men had come looking for him a couple of days earlier. Owing to his previous job as a police detective, Marlowe checks in with the police department and his old friend Detective Joe Green. He learns that Nico Peterson had been killed in a hit-and-run case on a stretch of road outside the Corbata Club, his head crushed under the tire of the car.

His suspicions start to flare up, and Marlowe tries to enter the Corbata Club but is denied access. He goes to the Cavendish mansion to confront Clare about not being honest with him, to which she admits that she knew about his death but also believes that he is alive, as she had claimed to have seen him recently in Mexico. Coupled with the general animosity he experiences from his husband and the general weirdness of his conversation with The Ambassador (America’s ambassador to England and also the owner of Pacific Studios) and Dorothy Quinncannon’s readily apparent attraction towards him, Marlowe leaves in anger at being lied to.

Marlowe also learns that Nico used to work primarily for the Ambassador (a moniker that overshadows any personal identity of the man) in hopes of getting bigger roles in the industry. At the same time, Quinncannon is suspicious that Clare and the Ambassador have a relationship bordering on romantic or sexual. She also knows about Nico but is bored with his presence and only considers him a distraction for her daughter.

Floyd Hanson also invites Marlowe (Danny Huston, playing a heavy almost as a tribute to his late father John Huston’s role in Chinatown), the manager of the Corbata Club, who acts amiable and cordial. Still, his questioning demeanor reveals that he, like Marlowe, believes that Nico Peterson has also faked his death and is hiding somewhere. In the same club, he comes across Lynn Peterson, Nico’s sister, who has identified the body from the hit-and-run case as her brother.

She instructs Marlowe to meet her at the Cabana Club that night. However, Marlowe is attacked by two men that night when he goes to meet her. He makes relatively quick work of them (though he does admit he is getting too old for this), but Lynn is nowhere to be found. They finally cross paths when he manages to break into Nico’s house and learns that Lynn and Nico are half-siblings. Lynn is a sex worker who was part of the regular clientele in the Corbata and Cabana clubs. She also knew details about the secret dealings of her brother. But before she could divulge them, they were interrupted by two men from Tijuana who had come to silence Lynn. Marlowe is knocked unconscious and thrown in a barn as he desperately tries to fight them off as they pursue Lynn.

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He regains consciousness to find a new character, Cedric, hovering over him. Cedric is the driver of one Lou Hendricks (Alan Cumming), who is the owner of the Cabana Nightclub and is involved in the shady business that Nico Peterson is involved with as well. Nico’s womanizing nature comes to the forefront again when Marlowe learns that he had owned someone named Serena, who is of paramount importance to Hendricks, such that he is ready to hire Marlowe to search for Nico.

This is the second time someone other than his client has tried to hire him, the first time being Dorothy Quinncannon. She wanted to hire Marlowe separately to investigate Clare’s alleged affair with the Ambassador. In both cases, Marlowe refuses, and he cleverly asks Cedric to drop him off at a different location, which turns out to be the back entrance of the police station. Leaving this subtle warning to Hendricks, Marlowe returns home. He is nursing his wounds when he is visited by County Detective Bernie Ohls (a delightful Colm Meaney), another old acquaintance of Marlowe, who is open enough to hear out his suspicions regarding Peterson and agrees to investigate Lynn Peterson’s disappearance.

While leaving Marlowe’s place, Ohls notices a car coming up the driveway. It is Clare who had come to check up on him and maybe consummate her growing attraction towards Marlowe. Marlowe staunchly refuses but agrees to dance. When she finally leaves after spending a couple of moments dancing on the porch, Marlowe follows her car, keeping a distance. He sees her entering the Corbata Club and meeting the ambassador in secret and finds Dorothy there as well, spying on the two of them. The next morning, Ohls informs Marlowe that Lynn Peterson’s body has been found, and as they reach the location, the grim nature of the crime is revealed, with Lynn having been murdered after being raped and tortured.

Angry now, Marlowe, under the orders of Detective Ohls and the reluctant agreement of Detective Green, sneaks into the Corbata Club through the back entrance leading into a swampy area. There he confronts Floyd Hanson, who is snorting heroin, which they call “Mexican Powder.” It is revealed that the Corbata and the Cabana Club, under Floyd Hanson and Lou Hendricks, are fronts for drug sales or drug distribution.

Marlowe pretends to drink the drugged whisky that Floyd offers. As he pretends to be knocked unconscious, he is led through the underbelly of the Corbata Club, witnessing the debauchery and later the torture exhibited to the prisoners of the Corbata Club, one of whom is Lou Hendricks. As Marlowe plots his escape, with the help of the imprisoned Cedric, we see Floyd torturing Hendricks and asking about Serena. Finally, an enraged Hendricks reveals that “Serena” is actually the “Serena Ornamental,” a plaster mermaid prop containing heroin that is currently housed in the same room’s aquarium. But before Hanson could take the mermaid, Cedric, and Marlowe came out of the room they had been imprisoned in.

Marlowe uses his sawed-off shotgun to shoot Hanson through the chest, while Cedric uses his Tommy gun to shoot through the other henchmen and, unfortunately, the aquarium, thus destroying the mermaid as well. Hendricks angrily shouts profanities at Cedric, insulting his intelligence. But as befitting a man of Hendricks’ arrogance, he didn’t consider his tied-up state as a vulnerable one, which Cedric takes advantage of and blasts new holes through his body, killing him. Cedric knows full well that this crime won’t be reported on him, and neither he nor Marlowe would try to correct the details with the police.

After these stressful events, Marlowe returns to his house to find Nico Peterson nonchalantly sitting at his office. Peterson reveals that the ambassador is involved in this drug business, with Nico being responsible for smuggling the drug through the props of the Pacific Film Studios. Nico also admits that the dead man who had been identified as him was a musician at the club.

He requests that Marlowe inform Clare to meet him at the Pacific Film Studios’ prop warehouse that night. Marlowe goes to meet with the mother-daughter duo of Dorothy and Clare, where they both confront how they individually tried to conduct investigations on the same crime, more or less, with Dorothy further trying to prove a relationship between her daughter and her husband. This makes Clare overturn the table in anger and walk away.

Marlowe follows her and informs her of Nico’s desire to meet her, thus shifting the final moments of the story to the warehouse.

Marlowe (2022) Ending Explained

What happens to Nico and Clare in the end?

Liam Neeson in Marlowe (2022)

When Nico finally reaches the warehouse to meet with Clare, it is finally revealed why he faked his death. Contrary to the obvious belief that he had stolen the heroin, Nico instead had in his possession a briefcase consisting of every transaction ever undertaken by the Ambassador. This proves that the Ambassador had been using the Pacific Films Props Studio to facilitate the drug business throughout Hollywood. He plans to use these as a weapon to destroy the Ambassador so that he can live a better life with Clare.

However, the Ambassador had also suspected Nico of foul play. While Hendricks and Hanson had been trying to track him down, the ambassador had appointed his agent, Clare Cavendish, herself. Clare had been working with the ambassador out of jealousy against her mother and to secure a high-level position. Thus, having finally secured the briefcase, Clare shoots the shocked Nico with a revolver.

Marlowe watches all these events unfold as he sees the convoluted story finally come to fruition, with Nico’s body falling to the ground and then being lit on fire by Clare. As the prop house starts burning down, Marlowe realizes that he has no proof beyond hearsay to convict Clare of her crimes and thus helps her escape.

A few days later, Marlowe goes to meet the new head of Pacific Film Studios, Clare Cavendish. This is the post that had been promised to her by the Ambassador all along, and Clare wants to hire Marlowe as Chief of Security for her studio as a reward for his discretion. Marlowe refuses, saying it is “too much for him.” But unlike being dejected at not having brought the perpetrators to light, Marlowe walks away with a new friend in tow, Cedric, whom he decides to recommend as Chief of Security for Clare’s studio. Meanwhile, the Nazi Party is gaining prominence in America as books are being burned.

Final Thoughts on Marlowe

“Marlowe” should be taught in screenwriting class as an example of how not to write a noir. The trademark of noir is a tad bit of melodrama, tinged with clever dialogue and an auditory lyricism in its verve and delivery. While the third option might not be possible to execute simply because of modern-day filmmaking, the second option is the most egregious crime of them all.

The dialogue sounds tired, very much feeling like it is pretending to be a noir and trying too hard to be clever but failing miserably at it. The structuring of the plot feels unnecessarily convoluted because it is easy enough to understand the linear throughline within the web of convolution. Writers Neil Jordan and William Monahan are desperately trying to evoke the convoluted nature of the storytelling trademark of the most famous of the Marlowe-led noirs, The Big Sleep, the most bewildering film. What they don’t realize is that the convoluted plot was a feature, not the point. It had more to do with emphasizing the procedural aspect of the investigation while also basking in the rapid-fire dialogue and the banter between the characters.

However, for a movie dealing with having the majority of its action take place within the confines of a film studio or even having Danny Huston, the son of legendary director John Huston, play a similar negative role as the elder Huston in Chinatown, the decision to encapsulate the story by comparing it with Hitchcockian writing is baffling, to say the least. It is even more baffling when you are referencing banter and dialogue from Double Indemnity and even The Big Sleep, but you choose to encapsulate the story by evoking a director least known for writing noirs.

As an older, veteran detective, Liam Neeson would have been an interesting choice. As Philip Marlowe and not even a subversive one like Elliott Gould in “The Long Goodbye,” he is miscast. He doesn’t have any chemistry with the femme fatale of the story, Clare Cavendish. Clare, too, sadly feels stiff, and there is no chemistry when she and Neeson are sharing the frame.

On the other hand, Neeson’s chemistry with Cedric and Detective Ohls is especially enjoyable to watch. Cummings, as Hendricks, chews the scenery, even though his hyperbolic dialogue borders on the ridiculous. There are moments, however, where Neil Jordan’s horror roots and his penchant for visceral violence come to the forefront. Those provide the necessary unique aesthetic in this mostly staid adaptation of a Philip Marlowe story.

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Marlowe (2022) Cast: Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger
External Links for Marlowe: IMDb, Letterboxd


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