|The Leopard Man (1943)
Run time: Approved | 66 min | Horror, Thriller
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writers: Ardel Wray, Edward Dein
Stars: Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks
Taglines: Don’t Be Afraid To Know the Truth about the
Monster That Killed For a Thrill!
An excellent low-budget thriller, directed with savage poeticism by Tourneur, about a series of murders attributed to an escaped leopard.
1. The black leopard Dynamite also appeared in Val Lewton’s Cat People (1942).
2. In the Summer of 1952, RKO reissued this film as a double feature with King Kong (1933). RKO “cashed in”, as young theatergoers, due to this film’s title, were expecting to see a second “creature” film.
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After their success in 1942 with the fabulous ‘Cat People’, the star team of producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur would team up twice the year later. First for the compelling and brilliant ‘I Walked With a Zombie’, and second for this film; The Leopard Man. For the movie, the two filmmakers re-cast the star of their first success, the big black leopard, in this movie, who once again plays a big black leopard. The screenplay this time round makes far better use of the animal at the centre of the film, which allows the impressive creature to make a much bigger impression on the movie, and it also gives the film a unique edge over other horror movies, as there aren’t a great deal that can build around a leopard. In fact, one thing that struck me about this movie was it’s similarity to the 1980’s remake of Cat People, and I wonder just how much influence that film took from this production. Anyway, the story here is deliriously simple and it follows a leopard that has escaped from a nightclub. After a few deaths, the cat is blamed…but is there more to this scenario than meets the eye?
Just like Val Lewton’s earlier and later productions, The Leopard Man is notable for it’s breathtaking atmosphere, which is once again up there with the greatest ever seen in cinema. The use of shadows and lighting is impressive, and when you combine this with Jacques Tourneur’s incredible ability to stage a scene amidst this atmosphere; you’ve got a recipe for a truly great horror movie. This movie isn’t as full of great scenes as Cat People was, but there is still some really good stuff on display, including my favourite scene which sees someone mauled behind a closed door. I’m not a big subscriber to the idea of ‘less is more’, but the scene I just mentioned goes to show just how well it can work if utilised properly. If the film had directly shown the killing, it would have uprooted the atmosphere and the terror of the movie on the whole wouldn’t have been as astute. As it happens, The Leopard Man has got it spot on. But then again, would you expect anything less from a Val Lewton production?
****SPOILERS**** Dark and creepy film based on the Cornell Wollrich novel "Black Alibi" about a leopard on the loose in the desert and towns of New Mexico. With deep and disturbing psychological overtones that strikes more fear in the hearts of those in the movie and audience then the big cat itself.
Publicity agent Jerry Manning, Dennis O'Keefe, trying to spice up his client Kiki Walker, Jean Brooks, nightclub act gets her a black leopard from a local carnival to upstage her rival at the club Spanish dancer Clo Clo, Margo. On the first night of Kiki's act with the big cat the leopard gets startled by an angry Clo Clo who put her hand-clickers almost in it's face. The noise made the cat break away from Kiki as it disappears into the night.
With the local police as well as the towns people looking for the escaped black leopard it later crosses the path of young Teresa Guadalupe who's outside going to the store to get corn meal for her mother to make dinner. Terrified with fear at the sight of the almost demonic-looking black cat Teresa drops the bag of corn meal that she has and runs for her life with the leopard hot on her tail.
Getting to her house her mother doesn't let poor Teresa in because she didn't have the corn meal and thought that her story about her being chased by a big cat was just an excuse for her to let her in the house. A moment later there's a terrifying scream and then all is eerily quiet. Realizing that something is terribly wrong Teresa's mother runs to open the door she sees a stream of blood oozing under it, the cat killed little Teresa.
Terrifying movie that plays with ones nerves like a violinist pays with the strings of his violin. With sounds and shadows instead of special effects and really packs a wallop by doing it. There's three scenes in the movie where someone is killed including the one with Teresa and everyone of them brings the tension to such a hight where your nerves are at the point of breaking down. You just can't wait for the nerve racking scene to finally end where at the same time the director of the movie, Jacques Tourneur, keeps you totally in the dark to what's happening off screen.
Tourneur direction shows how the mind can be easily tricked and manipulated by an imaginative film maker with nothing more then lights sound & shadows. And thus brings far more shocks and jolts to his audience back in 1943 then what the best state-of-the-art special effects can do in a movie today.
Even though "Leopard Man" touched upon a lot of psychological aspects of the human, as well as animal, mind it pre-dates the movie "Spellbound" which many consider the first major Hollywood film about the subject by two years.
The films dark and eerie ending in the darkening New Mexican desert amid a black hooded precession to commemorate the 17th century slaughter of the towns original inhabitants, by the Spanish Conquistadors, was one of the most creepiest sights I've ever seen in a movie.
The escape of nightclub performer’s leopard is followed by a series of mutilations–but are these the work of the leopard or of a serial killer stalking a small southwestern town? Although not one of producer Val Lewton’s better known films, director Tourner endows the story with considerable atmosphere, and the result is a moody and intriguing film that holds it own with the more celebrated CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.
Like other Lewton films, THE LEOPARD MAN relies more upon what it suggests than upon what it actually shows. This film is particularly effective in building suspense in a series of scenes that show various characters walking–a saucy Spanish dancer strolling along the street, a frightened teenager making a night-time trip to the grocer, a young woman rushing through a cemetery at night. The cinematography is elegant in its simplicity, and the sound design is quite remarkable. Hard to find, but Lewton fans will find it worth seeking out.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
I think ‘The Leopard Man’ is the most memorable and frightening of the three Lewton-Tourneur collaborations. While it may be more straightforward than ‘I Walked With a Zombie’ or ‘Cat People,’ it’s more atmospheric and more effective because its chills are predicated on agoraphobic horror. ‘I Walked With a Zombie’ was confined to a tropical island setting, while ‘The Leopard Man’ takes place in a New Mexico border town, on the edge of town, so that we travel along the desolate and wide open spaces of the sleepy Southwest at nighttime.
Early in the film, a young Mexican girl is sent on a late-night errand by her mother to buy some tortilla. Being that the shop is closed, she must traverse the sandy expanse between town and the nearest open shop. During this trek, she must pass under a bridge, and the shadows and sounds that stalk her are terrifying. Recalling this scene, right now, gives me goosebumps.
Horror is the most cinematic of all genres, because it works directly on the viewer’s emotions and fears, using atmosphere, sound, and montage as its tools. Most horror films are either exploitative or slick and empty, unfortunately, but to watch ‘The Leopard Man’ is to encounter the full potential of the horror genre, as Tourneur paints with shadows and not entrails. Forgive its plot holes and its lunkheaded denouement, because the journey there is a hair-raising walk in the dark.