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Dazed and blinded, private detective Philip Marlowe is interrogated by police lieutenant Randall about his involvement in several murders. In response to Randall's accusations, Marlowe relates the following story: Upon returning to his office late one evening, Marlowe is visited by the hulking Moose Malone, who asks him to find Velma Valento, the redhead he has not seen for the eight years he has been in prison. Moose insists that Marlowe accompany him to Florian's, the nightclub where Velma worked. When no one at the club remembers Velma, Marlowe visits Jessie Florian, who took over the bar after her husband's death, but the drunken Jessie denies knowing Velma until Marlowe finds her photo hidden in a filing cabinet. Jessie then says that Velma is dead, and when Marlowe informs her that Moose is out of jail, she becomes hysterical. Marlowe leaves the house, but watches from the window as the suddenly sober Jessie makes an urgent phone call. Upon returning to his office, Marlowe finds pretty boy Lindsay Marriott waiting for him. Marriott hires the detective to accompany him to a secluded canyon while he delivers the ransom for some stolen jewels. As Marlowe waits in the canyon for the jewel thieves, he is knocked unconscious and awakens to find a young woman standing over him. After the woman runs away, Marlowe discovers Marriott's dead body in the back seat of the car. Marlowe's story of his canyon escapade is greeted with disbelief by Randall, who warns him to stay away from Jules Amthor, a psychic advisor whom the police are investigating. Marlowe then returns to his office, where he finds a woman reporter waiting to question him about a stolen jade necklace. Seeing through the young woman's ruse, Marlowe forces her to admit that she is Ann Grayle, and that her stepmother, Helen, is the owner of the necklace. At Marlowe's insistence, Ann drives him to the Grayle estate, where he meets the elderly Mr. Grayle and his young attractive wife Helen, who explains that the necklace, valued at $100,000, was stolen from her at gunpoint. After Helen admits that Marriott, her friend, agreed to ransom the necklace for her, Marlowe asks her if Marriott knew Amthor and she replies that Marriott was Amthor's patient. Feeling responsible for Marriott's death, Marlowe agrees to search for the necklace and Marriott's killers when Amthor pays a surprise visit to the Grayles. After warning Amthor that the police are on his trail, Marlowe returns home. Soon after, Helen visits him with a retainer fee and invites him for a drink at the Coconut Beach Club. When Helen excuses herself to powder her nose, Marlowe sees Ann, who offers to hire him away from Helen. Marlowe leaves Ann's table to talk to Moose at the bar, and when he returns, Ann is gone, but has left her phone number and address behind. Following Amthor's instructions, Moose takes Marlowe to the psychic's apartment, where the detective accuses Amthor of being involved in blackmail schemes with Marriott. When Amthor learns that Marlowe doesn't have the necklace, he knocks him unconscious. Three days later, Marlowe wakes up in a locked room, drugged and barely able to walk. After breaking out of the room, Marlowe stumbles down the stairs to the office of Dr. Sonderborg, Amthor's associate, and after seizing the doctor's gun, Marlowe leaves the house. On the street, the woozy Marlowe meets Moose, who offers to help him. Moose quickly puts Marlowe in a cab and disappears after the detective tells him that Amthor is involved with Velma. At Ann's apartment, Marlowe announces that he has recognized her as the woman in the canyon. Just as Ann admits that she found Marlowe's address on Marriott's body, Randall arrives and Marlowe tells him about Sonderborg and the jade necklace. After Randall leaves, Ann and Marlowe drive to the Grayle house and find Mr. Grayle, upset by the news that, unknown to him, Marriott had been his tenant at his beach house. Racked by doubts about his wife's fidelity, Grayle asks Marlowe to close the case. Determined to clear his own name, Marlowe and Ann drive to the beach house. There, Marlowe kisses Ann and she accuses him of romancing her for information. Helen interrupts their argument, and after Ann accuses her of being a gold digger, she storms out of the house, leaving her stepmother alone with Marlowe. Trying to win the detective's sympathy, Helen confides that Amthor had learned of her infidelities when she was his patient and was demanding the necklace in exchange for his silence. Helen also states that she suspects Amthor of killing Marriott for double-crossing him by stealing the necklace. Helen kisses Marlowe and asks his help in eliminating Amthor. When the detective agrees, Helen instructs him to lure Amthor to the beach house the next evening with the promise of the necklace. After leaving Helen, Marlowe drives to Amthor's apartment and finds the doctor dead, his neck snapped by a big man. As Marlowe examines a signed photo of Velma on Amthor's desk, Moose appears and says that the woman in the photo is not his Velma. Promising to reunite Moose with Velma, Marlowe takes him to the beach house the following night and tells him to wait outside. Inside, Marlowe tells Helen that Amthor is on his way, and she shows him the necklace, explaining that she faked the holdup. In response, Marlowe calls her Velma and accuses her of murdering Marriott when he balked at following her orders to kill him. Marlowe also conjectures that Mrs. Florian notified Helen that Moose had hired Marlowe to find her, and that Helen panicked out of fear of going to jail for a crime that she committed with Moose. Marlowe concludes that she would have killed him, too, if Ann hadn't interrupted. At that moment, Helen pulls a gun on Marlowe and disarms him, and Ann and Mr. Grayle burst into the house. Just as Helen is about to kill Marlowe, Grayle, unable to bear the thought of losing her, shoots her. Drawn by the sound of gunshots, Moose breaks in and finds Helen, his Velma, dead. In a rage, Moose lunges at Grayle, who shoots in self-defense. Marlowe jumps in front of the gun as it explodes and blinds him. Although he hears the shots, Marlowe is unable to see who is hit. Back at the police station, Randall frees Marlowe and tells him that Ann has coroborated his story and that Moose and Grayle are both dead. Marlowe hands Randall the necklace and is guided out of the police station, talking about his affection for Ann. Unseen by the blinded Marlowe, Ann follows him and climbs into his cab. When he smells her perfume, they kiss.