Leopard Man, The (1943)

“Cats are funny, mister — they don’t want to hurt you, but if you scare them, they go crazy!”

Leopard Man Poster

Synopsis:
When a traveling showman (Dennis O’Keefe) and his star performer (Jean Brooks) accidentally let a leopard loose in a New Mexico town, innocent young women begin to die, one after the other. Soon O’Keefe starts to believe that a man — not a leopard — is responsible for the killings, and reluctantly tries his best to catch the murderer.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
More a “mystery with horror elements” than a straight horror flick, Peary designates The Leopard Man the “creepiest film” ever made by producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur. Two sequences in particular are, as Peary notes, “among the scariest in film history”: when “a young girl [Margaret Landry] is chased home by the leopard through the dark, deserted streets and winds up outside her locked door, unable to get inside” (note the slow trickle of blood along the lintel of the closed doorway), and when “another young girl [Tula Parnen] is trapped inside a cemetery after dark, and something on the tree limb above her is ready to pounce”. Unfortunately, as Peary points out, “some of the dialogue is a bit clunky, and the finale… seems hurried” (not to mention far-fetched); but the story remains both tense and suspenseful, with plenty of grist for critical analysis (see the two Bright Lights Film Journal articles below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric b&w cinematography
  • Many genuinely frightening scenes
  • Clo-Clo (Margo) clicking her castanets as she walks down the street

Must See?
Yes. This collaboration between Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur remains, according to Peary, “essential Lewton”.

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One Response to “Leopard Man, The (1943)”

  1. Not must-see.

    Seeing this again after a long time, I was almost shocked to realize how dull it ultimately is (considering how successful some of the Lewton-produced films are).

    Director Tourneur does his very expert best to conceal the fact that he has a very shaky script on his hands; parts of it are, by turns, confusing, strangely misleading and beyond an acceptable lack of logic.

    It’s true that the early sequence in which the young girl is pursued by the leopard is genuinely tense and well-directed. But this is one short sequence in an otherwise drawn-out and slightly tiresome film.

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