Day Twenty-Five of Noirvember: Favorite Femme Fatales – Part 2

Today’s Noirvember post is the second in my series of favorite femme fatales – those deliciously devious dames that I just can’t get enough of.

My top femme was Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944). Number two on my hit parade of deadly dames is none other than Kathie Moffat in Out of the Past (1947), which tells the tale of an ex-private dick whose past comes back to hit him square in the face – complete with the dame he loved and lost. Kathie Moffat, played by Jane Greer, is that dame. (Keep an eye out for spoilers ahead!)

One of things I like about the character of Kathie Moffat is the fact that she’s discussed at length long before we see her. We first hear of her when her lover, Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) hires two private detectives – Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) and his partner Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie) – to find her. Whit’s got two good reasons for trying to track her down: (1) she shot him and (2) she stole a cool 40 grand from him.

“I just want her back,” Whit says, explaining that the money isn’t important. “When you see her, you’ll understand.”

Jeff saw her coming out of the sun. And that was all she wrote.

And he does. (We all do.) Along with Jeff, our first glimpse of Kathie is in Mexico, where Jeff has trailed her. Jeff is seated in a café, La Mar Azul, as he does every day, drinking beer and half-dozing. “And then I saw her,” Jeff tells us. “Coming out of the sun. And I knew why Whit didn’t care about that 40 grand.”

It’s easy to see why Jeff falls for Kathie – she’s not only beautiful, with a quiet but palpable sensuality, but she also seems to have a sweet, sensitive side, an earnestness coupled with a little-girl quality that inspires a man’s protective side. It’s not until later that we scratch the surface and discover the femme fatale underneath.

Kathie’s true nature is revealed when Fisher tails Kathie and Jeff to their wooded hideaway in California and Kathie coolly – and totally unnecessarily – fatally shoots Fisher as he and Jeff are duking it out.

Kathie was a take-charge kind of a gal.

“You wouldn’t have killed him,” Kathie matter-of-factly explains. “You would’ve beaten him up and thrown him out.” In other words, Fisher had to go, and Kathie wasn’t taking any chances on Jeff’s ability to carry out the task. As always, she saw an opportunity and she took matters into her own hands.

There’s only one point in the film, in fact, where Kathie appears to be less than completely in control. It’s near the film’s end, when Whit is forced to realize what Jeff has known for quite some time – that Kathie is a lying, manipulative murderess. He slaps her face (and a more authentic movie slap you may never see) and delivers a somber, chilling threat:

“You’re gonna make every exact move I tell you. If you don’t, I’ll kill you,” Whit tells her. “And I’ll promise you one thing: It won’t be quick. I’ll break you first. You won’t be able to answer a phone or open a door without thinking, ‘This is it.’ And when it comes, it still won’t be quick.”

Kathie’s off her game for the first time. And the last.

For the first time – the ONLY time – Kathie looks genuinely frightened. Terrified, in fact. But like the true femme fatale she is, she’s not defeated. The next time we see Whit, he’s dead on the floor, and Kathie is packed and ready to hit the road. We don’t know exactly how she killed Whit, but there’s no doubt that he’s a goner, and there’s even less doubt about Jeff’s future if he doesn’t go along with her plan. Ultimately, Kathie doesn’t make it to her planned destination (darn those road blocks!), but you can’t deny that she came awful close.

Emphasis on “awful.”

Join me tomorrow for Day 26 of Noirvember.

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~ by shadowsandsatin on November 25, 2018.

9 Responses to “Day Twenty-Five of Noirvember: Favorite Femme Fatales – Part 2”

  1. Yes Kathie was “sweet and sensitive” and very beautiful and so very dangerous. When you really think about her she was a mass murderer first Fisher, then Whit, and lastly Jeff.

    • You are so right, Jay — triple deadly threat!! And to me, unlike most femmes fatales, she totally had her soft side — it was so easy to see how men could want to believe her lies. Poor Fisher had her number from the start, though!

  2. Mitchum in his classic tone of voice says of Kathie – “She was like a leaf the wind blows (pause) from gutter to gutter”. A noir gem.

  3. She’s no good, that dame.

  4. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never made it through and entire viewing of Out of the Past. It’s not for lack of trying, either, because I’ve tried many times to sit down and watch it each time it’s aired on TCM. My problem with this film isn’t the story or the pacing, it’s Kirk Douglas. Ever since I learned he brutally raped a (very) young Natalie Wood, I can’t sit through any of his films. I can’t read about him either. The very thought of him makes me feel sick … which is a shame because there are films he’s made that I’d very much love to see. I just can’t, though.

  5. To Veebs – As the audience we only know the artist thru experiencing their art. We do not know the person creating the art. We only know the persona of the individual as the artist.
    In most art we don’t see the artist.But in cinema the face is essential to the art form.Viewing the visage of the artist intensifies the illusion of knowing the person – i.e. the oft stated “I would know him/her if I saw him/her”.But it is an illusion.
    I wonder do the transgressions of Joan Crawford (child abuse) and Gloria Grahame ( incestual sex with a minor-her step son) prevent you from viewing their films?

  6. Thanks for the post on a great Film Noir femme fatale!

  7. Jane Greer was always fun to watch.

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