What Does Kathie Moffat Want?

12 Sep

Jane Greer as Kathie Moffat…contemplating murder

The first time I saw Out of the Past, I had never seen a film noir before and was not aware that I was watching one of the quintessential films of the (dare I called it?) genre. And the film did not make much of an impression on me at the time.

It was Double Indemnity that really got me going and after many years I thought it was time that I gave Out of the Past another chance. I enjoyed it much more this time. But one question still tantalizes me. What does Kathie Moffat, the femme fatale played by Jane Greer, really want?

Generally, femme fatales have pretty specific goals. Phyllis Dietrichson wants money. Brigid O’Shaunessy wants the Falcon (and money). Mrs. Grayle wants to be free of her past so she can go on enjoying money and men. But what is Kathie’s overarching goal?

This is a puzzler, because she behaves in such a contradictory fashion. She shoots gambler Whit (played by Kirk Douglas) and steals $40,000, running off to Mexico. When she is tracked down by private detective Jeff (Robert Mitchum), instead of giving him the slip, she hangs around and starts an affair with him. She even returns to American and hides out with him in shady places (not something I could ever imagine Phyllis Dietrichson doing – she’d have skipped town and gone to South America). When Jeff’s former partner shows up and tries to blackmail them, she shoots him and Jeff suddenly realizes that she’s not as innocent as he had believed (he believed that she did NOT steal the $40,000).

Now without Jeff, she returns to Whit, who she seems to not like very much. When Jeff comes back into their lives, she tries to have him framed for murder and later just plain murdered. Finally, when backed in a corner by Jeff AND Whit, she shoots Whit and blackmails Jeff into going away with her, saying that she always did find him a kindred spirit. When Jeff betrays her, she shoots him, too.

So, what are her motivations? Money? Doesn’t seem to be her main one. She stole that $40,000, but she seemed perfectly willing to stay in hiding with Jeff instead of dashing off to greener pastures. Their scenes are played like a romance movie. She’s always coming out of the sunlight, moonlight, headlights, running in the sand in her bare feet with her hair down like a woman renewed while Roy Webb’s romantic score romances away.

jane_greer-328125519_stdShe says she’s afraid of Whit (assertions one has to take with a salt flat), but Whit’s attitude towards her is more one of possession than the bedazzled fascination of Jeff, so perhaps there’s some truth to what she says. But after all her running and hiding from Whit, even shooting Jeff’s partner when he threatens to tell Whit about them…she just returns to Whit and tells him everything about her and Jeff?

My sister’s theory is that she doesn’t have a specific goal; she’s living in the moment. She gets tired of Whit’s overbearing ways, so she shoots him and takes enough money to cover expenses (gambling and clothes and such). She’s attracted to Jeff, so she hangs around. She shoots Jeff’s partner, because he threatened her in the moment. Jeff loses his illusions about her, so she goes back to Whit. She kills Whit and has Jeff in her power – why not take him along with her?

It all seems rather unpremeditated. The only consistent thing I can see is that she likes to be in charge (and who can blame her). Still, it make Kathie Moffat a bit of an enigma and prevents her from seeming like a total force of evil. She’s mostly reacting to the moment and she doesn’t come off as any worse than anyone else. She’s a sociopath, but…I don’t know. Somehow, I found myself kind of on her side. Maybe it’s Robert Mitchum. Maybe he’s just too cool for me. Somehow, I rarely find myself firmly rooting for him in any of his films. It’s not that I dislike him or think he’s a bad actor. It’s just that I never quite make the leap towards being fully, emotionally on his side.

But what about you? What do you think Kathie Moffat really wants?


Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Movies


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13 responses to “What Does Kathie Moffat Want?

  1. Michaela

    September 12, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    I’m not sure if the question of what Kathie wants can ever be answered. A lot of people say that the plot makes no sense, and it’s possible that Kathie’s motivations suffered from it. I figured she stuck with Mitchum in Mexico because she actually did fall for him — after all, she believes they are two birds of a feather — but I never understood why she went back to Whit. Did she think he was going to hunt her down, so she might as well return and admit everything to get back in his good graces? Or was she caught and forced back, and we just never saw it? Out of the Past always leaves me with a million questions…

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      September 13, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      Yes, I’m inclined to agree with you that she genuinely fell for Jeff. The Whit thing is, as you say, rather puzzling. Sometimes, I so wish we had more information about the nature of her relationship with Whit.

      I wonder if the book it is based on explains any more, or if the confusion is simply built into the story.

      But it is so irresistible to try to figure her out! I guess it’s a testament to Jane Greer, how she takes a character that is not fleshed-out at all and makes us believe there must be more than we know.


  2. Simoa

    September 13, 2016 at 7:51 am

    I just rewatched the film after a couple of years and found myself captivated more by her this time around than I was initially. I didn’t really understand why it’s cited as one of the Greatest. But I was able to follow along better and appreciate it more. I picked up on Kathie always coming out of sunlight and moonlight, making her so much more romantic and mysterious. I think the brilliant thing about her character is that we don’t know what she wants. She’s deadlier than any other femme fatale I think, and Jane Greer balances that quality with an otherwise innocent looking face.

    Liked by 2 people

    • christinawehner

      September 13, 2016 at 12:29 pm

      True, she’s so convincing with that innocent face, one almost wishes it were real so we can root for the character! She seduces even the audience, which is pretty impressive.

      I’m with you, it seems like a film that requires multiple viewings. The first time I saw it, I was pretty lost and not sure what the point was. I think I still need to see it a couple more times. She is rather fascinating, though, as you say!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Grand Old Movies

    September 13, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    What makes Kathie, in part, so mysterious is that through much of the film we see her only through the eyes of others–either through those of Whit or those of Jeff, each man, it seems, being first besotted with, then nursing a grudge against her. Not until the final act, taking place in ‘present’ time and not in Jeff’s memory (after Kathie has returned to Whit and Jeff is once more called into Whit’s services) does she stand outside their narratives –although she’s still only presented in terms of how she relates to these two men. The question seemingly then is: which is the ‘true’ Kathie? And how far can we trust our male narrators?

    Another question I always have when watching the film is why Jeff turns against Kathie when she shoots his partner. To me it’s clear that Kathie views the partner as a menace to her relationship with Jeff, that the partner will return to Whit no matter what (I just can’t see Jeff simply giving him a good beating as the means to stop him; the partner is too greedy), and then Whit will come after them (and Kathie probably knew more of what Whit was capable of). Maybe I’m more in the cold-blooded camp, but getting rid of the partner permanently seemed the only thing Kathie could do to protect her relationship with Jeff. Or is it a gender question, that women aren’t supposed to ‘do’ such things? Maybe that’s why I had the same feeling you did, of being on Kathie’s side no matter how badly she behaved, because she won’t conform to expected behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      September 14, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      That is an interesting question about whether Jeff was naive enough to think that only beating his partner would stop him. I have to agree – it doesn’t even remotely seem likely that it would have been enough. Perhaps he turned on her because he felt like a fool for having deceived himself into thinking of her as an angel and he couldn’t handle feeling that way.

      That’s a good point – her motivations look so obscure because the men only see her through their own motivations. It’s curious, because usually I can speculate about what a character wants, even in films with plotting defects, but with Kathie I came up almost empty. I can’t find a theory that seems to account for all the inconsistencies. It is tantalizing. It’s her relationship with Whit that seems the most unclear, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Silver Screenings

    September 15, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Aha – great question! You know, I’ve never thought about what she wants. I just accept her actions…but now you’ve got me wondering. I need to see this again.

    I like what a previous commenter said about our viewing Kathie through the male narrator’s lens. Definitely something to keep in mind in my next viewing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      September 15, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      Yes, it’s a great observation! Since he mentioned it, I’ve wondering if they could even be distorting things in their own mind, getting actual facts wrong…like how Whit says that she came back to him begging for him to take her. Could it be his interpretation, but not really how it went down?

      It kind of makes me want to watch it again soon, too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. B Noir Detour

    September 15, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Great post and question. I loved the movie for its cast immediately. Stronger chemistry and intensity between Greer and Mitchum than Stanwyck and MacMurray, that’s for sure.

    Kathy wants a life of wealth, leisure, and incessant reminders of her desirability. All that she wants is external and superficial, as she is. She a definite sociopath with an inability to truly connect to others, and most wants whatever she doesn’t have at the moment (re men and money). And when she isn’t content with what she thinks she wants, she takes the object of her desire down with her.

    That’s my two cents, and why I find her so disturbing and compelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      September 16, 2016 at 9:23 am

      That makes sense! 🙂 You make a great point that perhaps she always wants what she doesn’t have, which is what makes her motives seem so contradictory. I still can’t help but wonder what exactly is the nature of her relationship with Whit…how much was she really able to control him and if she couldn’t and if that’s why she shot him the first time.

      In thinking about it, in some ways the film feels like a struggle by three people to dominate the other. Whit and Jeff always seem to be having these mini power battles of will while smoking at each other and Kathie leaves Jeff when she realizes that she no longer has a hold over him and at the end wants him when she does think she has a fresh hold.

      Liked by 1 person

      • B Noir Detour

        September 16, 2016 at 3:25 pm

        Whit is abusive, and Kathie seems drawn to that kind of masculine power even as she goes to Jeff for his protective strength. Definitely Whit and Kathie seem like two of a kind to me with Jeff the odd man out, but I like your point that perhaps Kathie’s behavior is because Whit and Jeff have the stronger bond, or seem to.

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          September 16, 2016 at 5:25 pm

          Yes, I definitely agree Whit’s abusive. But is she drawn to him? She seems to be rather putting up with him. She’s very drawn to Jeff, as you say.


          • B Noir Detour

            September 16, 2016 at 7:46 pm

            I think she seems a bit of a masochist as well as a sadist. Caught up in power plays in which she is abused as well as abusing. She likes to torment Whit and he likes to punish her for it, which keeps them connected.

            Liked by 1 person


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