Kathie Moffatt, Out of the Past


“I never told you I was anything but what I am. You just wanted to imagine I was. That’s why I left you. Now we’re back to stay.”

Kathie Moffatt steals money, wracks up a respectable body count, threatens lackeys, and double crosses with the best of them. She lives with fellas while reminaing quite unmarried, manipulates anyone in her midst, and looks terrific in white. In a shoot-out, she chooses to shoot back – even while out-numbered and out-gunned… without breaking a sweat or losing composure.

Just how good is Kathie? After stealing $40,000 ($427,164.65 today) Ex-lover Whit purportedly doesn’t care about the money – he just wants her back. Unlike some femme fatales, she’s not escaping her dead-end domestic life (in fact, we know very little about her life prior to her relationship with Whit, and, subsequently, Jeff), she’s not a victim of circumstance, and she’s not looking to settle a personal score. She’s simply looking out for number one, and it’s unclear whether she has any use for either man as anything other than a tool for personal gain, self-preservation, or merely a distraction.

Jane Greer has said in interviews that Jacques Tourner gave her minimal direction – asking her if she knew the term “impassive”, and saying “First half of the film…good girl. Second half… bad girl.” Witness:

The interest – dare I say, excitement, that registers in her eyes prior to the shooting is some of the most emotion we see that isn’t for the benefit of someone else.

“I didn’t know you were so small.” “I’m taller than Napoleon.” “You’re prettier, too.”

Taller than Napoleon? Indeed, and save a few hot-headed murderous decisions, possibly a better tactical strategist.

Life Lessons from Kathie Moffatt:

1. Do not understimate the power of a  pure white dress. Practical for summer and meals without red sauce, disarming for when your gambling ex-boyfriend sends a flunky out to report on your every move (if you’re lucky, he’ll be Robert Mitchum)… Girl in white walks out of the sun into a little cafe next to a movie house….What’s she up to?

imagesCA1PHAHOAnswer: No good.

You’re wonderful Kathie. You’re magnificent. You can change sides so smoothly.

2. Buy in, don’t sell out. Kathie effortlessly (and arguably sociopathically) works whatever angle suits her agenda in the situation. It could be concluded that Kathie is the worst of the three – Jeff is more or less honorable to the last and even swarmy Whit has a displaced sense of loyalty. Critics of the femme fatale (calling her wholly an invention of the patriarchy – imagine that!) point to her utter lack of noble attributes. Be that as it may, it’s worth noting that she’s just a much better scoundrel then they are.

Kirk Douglas, Jane Greer Out of the Past (1947)

3. If your surivival comes down to making deals with a morally ambigious good guy, best to see that he won’t ultimately suffer a crises of conscience – or in this case, the gnawing realization he’ll never overcome the magnititude of his past, as he may decide that the only solution is an unceremonious murder-suicide by police checkpoint.

‘Til next time, hold on tight to your 40 grand… and don’t trust honest guys.


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