Warning: spoilers ahead for Marlowe.
Like all of Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective stories, Marlowe has a thrilling mystery at its center, and these are the five clues that lead to solving Nico Peterson’s disappearance. Based on John Banville’s novel “The Black-Eyed Blonde,” the neo-noir Marlowe follows Liam Neeson’s Philip Marlowe as he tries to find a renegade prop specialist thought to either be deceased or in hiding. From the moment Marlowe is contracted to find Nico Peterson by his wealthy lover Clare Cavendish, played by Diane Kruger, there are clues that the famous gumshoe must interpret in order to solve the case.
Some of these clues are not presented to Marlowe and the other characters, but rather to the audience, inviting viewers to begin solving the case even before he can. From particularly-placed props to the bizarre nature of the body found outside Floyd Hanson’s prestigious club, the riddle of deceit and murder becomes more and more complex – but not unsolvable. Knowing how to interpret the clues and putting them all together is the key to Marlowe uncovering Nico’s whereabouts.
5 The Mermaid Statue In The Aquarium
One of the first clues to indicate that Nico might be in hiding rather than dead has to do with a sleight of hand that occurs in plain sight. Marlowe’s first twenty minutes reveal a vital Nico moment if audiences know how to interpret it; otherwise, it appears to be an innocuous gesture. This early clue to solving the Marlowe movie ending is so much more than what it seems; just because it involves a painted plaster mermaid being lowered into an aquarium at Hanson’s club, that does not mean it is a mere piece of set dressing for the fishy inhabitants.
Far from being a new decoration, this mermaid is actually one of the main reasons Nico disappears. Hanson funnels drugs through his club, and Nico has stolen a massive amount then hidden it inside the mermaid. If Hanson knew where Nico was, he would have gotten the information out of him, but since he remains ignorant, he keeps searching, indicating Nico is still alive. Meanwhile, the very thing Hanson wants is floating right in front of him.
4 The Body In Front Of the Club
No sooner has Marlowe taken the case and tried to find Nico, he is informed that Nico has died. Like a death in the classic game of Clue, the Liam Neeson movie detective must figure out who killed Nico, by what means, and why. Curiously, Nico’s body was found near Hanson’s club with the head pulverized, making identification next to impossible, even through dental records. Furthermore, it was cremated shortly, and suspiciously, thereafter, which is a little too tidy for Marlowe’s taste.
Several aspects of Nico’s death do not make sense, and point toward Nico still being alive. If Clare Cavendish already knew Nico was dead, it is strange that she would contact Marlowe to find him. If Nico was supposed to be in Mexico, it seems odd he would expire at a place he is known to frequent in the United States. Finally, his body could not be identified at all if it was so thoroughly disfigured, particularly where the most vital part, Nico’s head, was concerned.
3 The Agreement Between Crooked Cops And The Club
One of the reasons that Nico’s body was identified and cremated so quickly boils down to the morally questionable coroner. The film noir movie genre is full of crooked members of the police force, often on the take for a variety of reasons, and most of the time this is due to the perks they enjoy by looking the other way where certain criminal activities are concerned. Hanson is able to funnel drugs through his establishment and the LAPD receives a percentage of sales.
This alerts Marlowe to the fact that Nico must not be dead, and that Hanson, alongside certain crooked members of the LAPD, do not want him investigating Nico or his associates any further. This also means that neither Hanson nor the police feels any remorse whatsoever for killing an innocent person and making them seem like Nico. They might have been able to get away with it if Marlowe was not so persistent.
2 Nico’s Experience In The Prop Department
There are several changes to the original book in Marlowe, particularly to the relationship between Marlowe and Nico, but in the film adaptation, Nico has extensive experience working for big studios in the prop department. Marlowe has to consider the character of the man he is trying to track down. For someone who knows their way around items made to resemble other items, it seems like deceit and fraud would be their calling cards.
Nico’s connection to the prop department includes a link to Alan Cumming’s Lou Hendricks, who often had him carry drugs from Mexico into America inside plaster mermaids, ornamental vases, and anything else he was delivering to a studio lot. The prop department, like the studio, then becomes the nucleus for all the murder mystery movie’s most sordid dealings, and where Marlowe finally comes to its fiery finale. Nico only had to remain hidden long enough to find a buyer for all the information he had on the biggest names in Tinseltown.
1 The Relationship Between Clare And Her Mother
The relationship between Clare and her mother forms the bulk of the mystery, as each woman tries to outmaneuver the other. Marlowe fails to realize the lengths these women will go to just to stab each other in the back, nor how Nico is used between them for personal and professional reasons that culminate in taking over the studio for themselves. Nico was never dead because Clare needed to keep him alive just long enough to exploit.
Marlowe might not be the tightest movie in the neo-noir subgenre, but the mystery at its center is made better by the efficacy of its clues. Understanding what they are and how they relate to one another is almost as important as identifying them. As Clare’s mother intimates to Marlowe at one point, the secret to Hollywood is knowing when your time is up. Too bad Nico didn’t get that memo.
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