Stepping into Mrs. Regan’s vast upper sitting room, decorated in white and ivory, Marlowe can see the storm approaching through the window. The detective looks at Mrs. Regan, whom he thinks is “trouble.” She hasn’t bothered to hide her legs, and looks back at Marlowe over her drink.
Mrs. Regan sits in a symbolic ivory tower, looking out over the grounds below. As the dark clouds close in, Marlowe notes she is “trouble,” due to her unconcealed sexuality. This puts Marlowe on edge, as Mrs. Regan’s confidence and demeanor do not fit within his rigid ideas of appropriate gender norms.
Mrs. Regan asks Marlowe’s opinion of her father, General Sternwood. Marlowe responds politely but she pushes further, asking if they discussed her missing husband, Rusty Regan. Marlowe gives noncommittal responses. Mrs. Regan then asks whether Marlowe thinks he can find Rusty, to which he responds it’s the police’s business.
The private detective dodges and deflects Mrs. Regan’s questions, feeling at turns under interrogation and manipulated. Despite the fact she is his client’s daughter, the detective does not trust her. The detective, it seems, trusts no one.
Mrs. Regan sounds a bell to call a maid in to replenish her drink. After the maid leaves, wordlessly, Marlowe asks Mrs. Regan for more information about Rusty’s disappearance. When his manner antagonizes her, he defends himself by saying he only came up to her room on her invitation. Marlowe’s direct response angers Mrs. Regan, who slams down her glass. Smiling, Marlowe lights a cigarette.
Mrs. Regan’s silent commands to her maid demonstrate the distinct lines between the wealthy and servant social circles in this culture. Meanwhile, it is Marlowe’s turn to interrogate his interlocutor, which displeases Mrs. Regan as she realizes she cannot maintain the upper hand in this dialogue. As such, their conversation resembles a battle rather than a casual chat.
Mrs. Regan realizes she’s made a mistake, and that Marlowe is not looking for Rusty. She tells him to leave, and then to sit down. She appeals to Marlowe to find Rusty, but Marlowe sees through her pretense of emotional marital affection. He asks her when Rusty left. Suddenly cooperative, she tells Marlowe that Rusty left a month ago, and “they” found his car in a private garage. Marlowe tells her he is not looking for Rusty—General Sternwood called him on other business. Marlowe leaves, taking his hat from Mr. Norris in the hallway as he goes.
The battle rages on, as Marlowe maintains stoic patience and Mrs. Regan changes tactics to get the information she wants from him. Marlowe leaves the room suspicious of Mrs. Regan’s intentions, and as such effectively wins the exchange, having given no information to Mrs. Regan that he didn’t want to tell her, but using the conversation to assess her relevance to his current case.
Marlowe stands just outside the door, smoking and looking at the distant oilfields where the Sternwoods made their money. Most of the land has since been made public. But the working parts of the field were still observable from the main house.
The dirty oilfields below the Sternwoods’ mansion, from which they made their fortune, represent that money often comes from morally dubious sources. The Sternwoods have a tainted past, which remains visible from the main house.
The storm has made it to the nearby hills as Marlowe walks through the grounds toward his car. Marlowe thinks about Mrs. Regan’s legs, and how she and the General have more to them than meets the eye. He thinks the old man has set this simple task as a test for something bigger.
Marlowe takes nothing at face value—he is suspicious of Mrs. Regan, and questions his client’s real motives in hiring him. The storms clouds gathering nearby suggest that finding the truth will not be easy.