A storm gathers as first-person narrator Philip Marlowe arrives at the Sternwood mansion near the hills. He is “sober” and “well-dressed” for the occasion. He takes in the impressive hallway and its extravagant decoration, including a stained-glass window showing a knight failing to save a damsel in distress, and a dark, brooding family portrait. Behind the house lies a well-stocked garage and a chauffeur, extensive gardens, and a greenhouse.
Marlowe approaches the Sternwood mansion full of confidence—sure of his appearance and certain of his own ability to help damsels in distress. Yet the darkening storm clouds on the horizon herald an ominous future coming for him. The extravagance of his client’s mansion underscores their immense wealth and privilege .
A very young, good-looking woman comes into the hallway. She begins to compliment Marlowe, who quips back ironically, uninterested, telling her his name is “Doghouse Reilly.” She falls, making him catch her, just as the butler, Mr. Norris walks in. The woman disappears up the stairs, and the butler leads Marlowe away toward General Sternwood, explaining Marlowe just met Carmen Sternwood.
Carmen’s shameless flirting serves as Marlowe’s first warning that the Sternwood’s money has not ensured their moral superiority. Rather, the fact the butler seems unsurprised by Carmen’s behavior suggests her manner with Marlowe is routine and always goes unchallenged.