The character of Phillip Marlowe is assayed for the second time by Robert Mitchum, who first played Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely. In a digression from the traditional portrayal of celluloid detectives, Marlowe does not function from a shabby office or live hand-to-mouth. He owns an expensive set of wheels and a Rolex, with snazzy suits thrown in for good measure.
The PI has a new client - a wheelchair bound millionaire General Sternwood (played by James Stewart). The General tells Marlowe that the homosexual proprietor of a local book store – Arthur Geiger (played by John Justin) - is blackmailing him. Geiger has some nude photographs of the General’s younger daughter Camilla (played by Candy Clark), intimidates Sternwood with blackmail, warning him that unless he pays Geiger a handsome sum of money, the slime all will make the pictures public. The actual reason why Sternwood isn’t just telling all this to the police instead of hiring a PI is revealed when he gives away the fact that he’s interested in the whereabouts of his son-in-law, his older daughter, Charlotte’s (played by Sarah Miles) husband - Rusty Reagan (played by David Seville). However, Mrs. Reagan also seems to have her eyes set on the elusive and brooding Phillip Marlowe!
The PI hunts Geiger down to his house - but on arrival is confronted with his corpse, shot between the eyes, an unclothed Camilla by its side. On further investigation it is revealed that the families chauffeur Owen Taylor (played by Martin Potter) had committed this crime of passion, as Camilla was his lover. Taylor, is himself later murdered by an associate of Arthur Geiger – Joe Brody (played by Edward Fox) who dumps the man’s corpse into a nearby river. It seems like Arthur has few friends as Brody had intended to steal the film all along, not unaware that his partner was already dead.
Not only does the General’s younger daughter have to hauled out of a mess, even Charlotte has a whole lot of troubles, especially with gambling debts she has piled up - earning the ire of the unsavory mobster Eddie Mars (played by Oliver Reed), also the house where Geiger lived was owned by the goon. Following close at Eddie’s heels is his sadistic, club footed sidekick ‘Brown Man’ Lash Canino (played by Richard Boone) and others from the red light district which include a lover of Arthur’s. But ultimately, it’s all about the elusive Rusty Reagan.
Marlowe sets up Charlotte, to learn if whether she’s actually grieving for her husband and is disturbed about his disappearance, or whether she was in some way responsible for his fate, his suspicions are proven right. It is she who is responsible for Rusty’s disappearance. Phillip is saddened and now he faces the task of breaking the news to the General. The audacious Camilla points a gun in his face, and Marlowe is appalled by the wickedness of both women.
It has long since been the case for debate whether it was at all necessary for doing a remake of The Big Sleep; critics and viewers look askance, torn between loyalty for greats like Bogart and Bacall and fondness for king of drawl - Mitchum. However, since the second version is more free in its treatment of taboo issues like promiscuity and drug abuse, Winner’s version is worth a watch.