Marlowe Ending, Explained: Why Is Clare Looking For Nico Peterson?

The mysterious storyline charted in the noir detective film ‘Marlowe,’ begins with the setup for a puzzle that grows with each new narrative introduction in the plot. Set in the 1930s, the film revolves around the titular character, Philip Marlowe, a Private Investigator who takes on the case of heiress Clare Cavendish’s missing lover, Nico Peterson. However, once Cavendish’s mother, Dorothy Quincannon, former actress and owner of a film studio, intervenes in Marlowe’s investigation, the detective finds himself caught in a dangerous game.

As the mystery holds some of Lose Angeles’ most well-kept secrets at its center, Marlowe must outwit and outrun dangers to solve his newest puzzle. Thus, since the film holds onto its card until the end, setting up various riddles for the climax to knock down, viewers must be as curious as Detective Marlowe to find answers to Nico’s disappearance. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Marlowe Plot Synopsis

In Los Angeles’ Bay City, crime and criminal investigation remain regular occurrences. Therefore, PI Philip Marlowe, known for his dedicated and covert work, isn’t surprised when a blonde woman— clearly belonging to the upper echelons of society— arrives in his office with a peculiar case. The woman, Clare Cavendish, recently and abruptly lost all contact with her lover, Nico Peterson, who works on the sets of her mother’s film studio.

Even though Clare had an understanding with her equally unfaithful husband, she doesn’t wish to make a public affair out of her investigation— hence Marlowe’s employment. Thus begins the detective’s work. However, after a short visit to Nico’s place of residence, Marlowe quickly learns from his neighbor that Clare’s lover, often found on the wrong side of the law, was actually found dead a while ago.

Consequently, Marlowe arrives at Clare’s home to confront the woman about the same. Nevertheless, Clare insists that Nico is alive and hiding, revealing that she saw him drive down the marketplace the other day. Furthermore, on his way out, Clare’s mother, Dorothy Quincannon, who is in a relationship with Philip O’Reilly, predicted to be England’s Ambassador, accosts Marlowe. While the woman remains eagerly curious about his business with Clare, the detective deflects her attempts, solely interested in solving the case at hand.

As such, Marlowe visits the mortuary next, where he learns that Nico’s dead body was cremated. Therefore, with his suspicions confirmed, the detective reaches out to his contact within the police department, Joe Green, to access entrance into the highly exclusive Corbata Club. Nico frequently met Clare at the private establishment, and according to the official report, the man was run over by a car outside the same location.

Predictably, the owner, Floyd Hanson, maintains that Nico’s death was a simple roadside accident with no connections to the Corbata Club. Yet, Marlowe gains a new lead when Lynn Peterson, Nico’s sister, reaches out to him at the club and covertly sets up a meeting. Nevertheless, Hanson’s men get the drop on the detective at the meeting, having already detained Lynn.

Meanwhile, the game for control between Clare and Dorothy continues, revealing the latter’s mysterious interest in Nico as a business asset. Consequently, through the investigation Dorothy already ran on Nico, Marlowe learns about the man’s involvement in the Mexican heroin business. Eventually, the PI’s persistent snooping lands him in the path of drug lord Lou Hendricks, who reveals that Nico was moving product in the company of elusive Serena during his alleged death. As a result, once the detective cracks the truth about Serena, he finds his answers about Nico Peterson.

Marlowe Ending: Is Nico Peterson Dead or Alive?

Although Marlowe picks up Clare’s case under the assumption that he has to find a missing man, he soon finds out that his real goal is to find a man in hiding who faked his own death. Even though Clare’s account and Nico’s out-of-place cremation remain circumstantial evidence at best, the general interest surrounding the man increases the suspicions regarding his supposed death.

From Dorothy, who’s close to a future Ambassador, to Hendricks, a known criminal mastermind, several shady personalities seem to have their attention on Nico before his death. Considering the unsavory characters involved in Nico’s case, it makes sense for the man to have faked his death to escape their scrutiny. Furthermore, Serena’s reveal adds another facet to Nico’s peculiar case.

Following the discovery of Lynn Peterson’s brutal death at the hands of Hanson’s men, the cops, who are unable to move against the man, encourage Marlowe to confront him. Consequently, the detective pretends to drink a clearly drugged beverage to allow Hanson’s henchmen to drag him into the establishment’s backroom where the secrets, such as a recently abducted Hendricks, lie. As a result, the big reveal arrives.

Nico Peterson’s involvement in drug trafficking didn’t stop with Henricks. Instead, Hanson and O’Reilly were also in on the plan. As it would turn out, O’Reilly utilized Dorothy’s film studios’ prop department, where Nico worked, to hide packed heroin. Hanson, with access to numerous high-class individuals seeking debauchery, moved the drug’s supply along. Additionally, Serena was actually a mermaid statue that Nico possessed, which contained large amounts of drugs.

The latter revelation arrives after an explosive encounter, where Marlowe, with help from Cedric, Hendricks’ driver, fights his way out of the establishment, killing the drug lord and the club owner. Afterward, once the detective returns home, Nico Peterson— alive and well is waiting for him. With his enemies dead, Nico has no reason to hide anymore, slotting the final puzzle piece into place. Yet, his visit remains ominous as he asks Marlowe to extend a meeting invitation on his behalf to Clare.

What Did Clare Want From Nico? Why Did She Kill Him?

Even after the resolution of the mystery of Nico’s disappearance, Marlowe is left with the question of Clare’s interest in finding the man. Considering Clare remains open about her attraction toward Marlowe and has been in an affair with her mother’s partner, O’Reilly, for some time, it hardly seems like the woman’s motives are romance-driven. Instead, much like everyone in the narrative, Clare must also want something from Nico.

Fortunately, Nico’s invitation to meet up with Clare at his former place of employment— the prop warehouse— promises answers. Furthermore, Marlowe learns about another piece of the puzzle through Cedric, who informs him about a powerful weapon in Nico’s arsenal. Apparently, when the man ran and faked his own death, he didn’t simply take drug-filled Serena with him. Instead, he also fled with a briefcase in his possession that holds extensive evidence proving O’Reilly’s illegal business with Hendricks and Hanson.

Therefore, after O’Reilly remains as Nico’s last enemy alive, he plans to bring his crimes to the forefront with Clare’s help and rid the city of his rule. Since Clare has been the only one to look for him, Nico believes he can trust her with the information. Nevertheless, his trust ends up being misplaced, as Clare proves by killing Nico and setting his body, alongside the evidence, on fire.

The reason Clare has been looking for Nico all this time remains her desire to procure the damning evidence against O’Reilly and ensure that it never sees the light of day. In exchange, O’Reilly hands over Dorothy’s Studio, Pacific Film, to Clare, appointing her as the company’s head. Consequently, after witnessing Clare pull off her carefully crafted persona to her advantage, Marlowe realizes that the entire game has been a ploy for a power grab from the beginning.

Why Did Marlowe Let Clare Go?

Even though Marlowe witnesses Clare’s crime against Nico as the woman kills him and destroys criminal evidence in cold blood, he refrains from reaching out to the police. From the detective’s previous actions, such as reporting Nico’s faked death and Lynn’s kidnapping, it remains evident that the PI prefers to stay within moral borders. Nevertheless, he allows Clare to slip free without repercussions for her actions.

While citing the possibility of Marlowe’s affection toward Clare may be a compelling explanation, the truth resides in the simple fact that Clare has committed the perfect crime. Even if Marlowe were to report her to the authorities, he would have no evidence against her. The woman even took care to burn Nico’s body. Thus making it impossible for Marlowe to convince anyone that Clare killed a man everyone already assumed to be dead.

Moreover, another fact remains that with Nico’s death, Marlowe has finally solved the puzzle. Throughout the film, many characters hint that Marlowe enjoys solving mysteries for the sake of finding answers more than the morality of it. As such, now that he knows the what, how, and why of the tale, there’s nothing pushing him to pursue the story any longer— especially when he knows justice won’t be served.

Therefore, Marlowe allows Clare to claim satisfaction over her achieved plan as the head of Pacific Film Studios, a position that has reignited her mother’s acting career. Still, the PI declines the opportunity to work for the woman as the head of security, passing the position along to Cedric.

Read More: Is Marlowe Based on a True Story?