I'm a great fan of the producer, Val Lewton, and director, Jacques Tourneur, so it came as no surprise that this atmospheric but subtle horror movie, set in a small New Mexico town, fully lived up to my expectations. It's not quite as good as their better known film, Cat People, but judged on its own merits the movie is thoroughly deserving of a five star rating. Here's why: * A good storyline involving an escaped black leopard who is suspected of killing young girls in the most horrible fashion (nothing gory is shown, just the frightening lead-ups to the deed, screams and shadows) * Moody sets, particularly the night-time street scenes, with everyone looking over their shoulders. RKO were a low budget studio, so Tourneur had to be very inventive in creating atmosphere, making good use of light and shade and unexpected jolts. In this one we also get the unnerving clicking of castanets and a procession of town's folk wearing hoods * Dennis O'Keefe, a handsome and sturdy leading man, with a reassuring air about him and a good sense of humour * Jean Brooks, who memorably played Kim Hunter's haunted sister in another atmospheric RKO horror, The Seventh Victim * Margo, an engaging and smouldering Mexican actress who plays a nightclub dancer * James Bell who plays the town's museum curator. He was an excellent but underrated actor who reminds me of Dean Jagger
The film is black and white and just 65 minutes long (the perfect length for this sort of thing). It's a pretty good print and the sound quality is fine, although there are no subtitles. I'm no expert on 'aspect' and although it was no problem for me, the picture may have been stretched to fill a wide screen - If that's the case it's easily remedied on most TVs.
Horror supreme producer Val Lewton teams up for the third and last time with director Jacques Tourneur to bring us The Leopard Man. Set in New Mexico, the story sees Jerry Manning (Dennis O'Keefe) hire a black leopard as a publicity stunt for his night-club performing partner, Kiki (Jean Brooks). Her rival, Clo Clo (Margo), is not impressed and promptly scares the animal into running away into the night. Pretty soon there is a panic threatening as the cat appears to be mauling people to death. However, Manning & Kiki, driven by guilt, join the hunt for the rogue animal; but Manning is starting to believe the killings are not of the animal's doing.....
Based on the book "Black Alibi" written by Cornell Woolrich, The Leopard Man's only crime is that it's not as great as its two predecessors, Cat People & I Walked With A Zombie. Rest assured, tho, this is still a quality Lewton/Tourneur production. As a story it's simple and straight, with a running time of just over one hour keeping it lean and devoid of pointless waffle, but the piece positively thrives on its atmosphere; dealing in murky shadows and unease inducing periods of silence. While it also boasts a number of sequences that linger long in the memory; be it blood seeping under a door, the bend of a tree branch or the dark under belly of a railway bridge, for such a short sharp shock of a movie there's so much to enjoy. The work of cinematographer Robert De Grasse (Vivacious Lady/The Body Snatcher) is top class and worthy of indulgence from the film noir loving crowd.
What you don't see is more effective on account of the eerie sense of dread that Messrs Lewton/Tourneur/De Grasse have built up. A fine film showing that classic spookers could be made from relatively small budgets. 7/10
Having viewed everything the great Val Lewton produced and being knocked over at how incredible his films were, I was still hesitant about The Leopard Man. Reading the plot, I believed I would be in for a forgettable hour. A leopard runs away and kills townsfolk- is that it?
The reality is that The Leopard Man has so much more going for it and for me, it is a masterpiece of the macarbe. There are so many bold scenes here- the death of a young girl, which you don't see coming or at least do not expect it will happen. The direction from Jacques Tourneur is simply superb, his usage of light and simplicity was ahead of the game. Of course as known fact Lewton himself was involved in everything, from set up, to script to make his films as perfect as they could be and on budget.
Watch out for one scene where a main character is being 'followed', this is apparently the very first time this type of scene was executed on film and it comes with a bonus genuine jump scene.
My only slight disappointment was from Dennis O'Keefe- a gifted actor but possibly miss cast here? The actress known as Margo steals the show- all in one she is a hopeless romantic, a money thinking woman, empowering and a cow. A magnificent performance.
The Leopard Man has long had a reputation as one of the most disappointing and problematic of the Val Lewton RKO films, possibly because of it's impressive lineage - based on a Cornell Woolrich novel with Cat People's Jacques Tourneur at the helm with that film's same big cat sharing the title role - possibly because it's a throwback to early horror mysteries that explained away their premise at the ending. It's not even really a horror movie, despite containing some of the standard genre clichés (you can be sure if someone is warned not to do something, they'll do it), though it does contain the nastiest and most genuinely unpleasant killing in any of Lewton's films, one that's all the more disturbing for being both offscreen and easily preventable. It's human nature and stupidity that's responsible, and that's ultimately what this tight little number about a New Mexico town plagued by a series of deaths at either the claws of an escaped leopard or the hands of a madman is about. The detective aspect of the story only really kicks in in the last reel and there's no serious competition for suspects. Instead the film spends much of its time establishing the lives, fears and hopes of those whose lives are affected or ended. Even a relentless gold digger is allowed a moment of real understanding and compassion where other films would have been content to set her up as a deserving victim. Tourneur's backlot direction is impressive in its smalltown atmosphere and the performances are more than equal to the task (especially Abner Biberman as the leopard's one-time owner). While it may not reach the highs of other films from the Lewton unit, The Leopard Man's a pretty mean cat in its own right.
Although there's both a Spanish DVD and a a French release (as part of a boxed et with Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie), it's best to track down Warner Home Video's excellent Val Lewton Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC], which contains all of Lewton's horror movies in much better prints.
Rival entertainers meet in a club in New Mexico Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks) brings in a leopard to upstage Clo-Clo (Margo). But Clo-Clo gets the last laugh when she chases the leopard off with her castanets.
All is fun rivalry until people start dying. Naturally the local authorities think it is the leopard. But Jerry Manning (Dennis O'Keefe) who rented the leopard has a theory that this is the work of a demented person. This theory is sort of supported by Dr. Galbraith (James Bell) the local museum curator. To make matters worse the leopard's owner, Charlie How-Come (Abner Biberman) does not remember where he was at the time.
As with the cat people it is what you don't see that can harm you. And the simile turning of a card can mark you for death.
You may recognize Dynamite the leopard that was also used in the movie "Cat People".
Produced by Val Lewton (7 May 1904, Yalta, Crimea, Russian Empire (now Ukraine) ) whose story telling device is unique in that this is more of a psychological film that does not focus on any one person as they are all pawns in a much larger story. Some time it verges on the surreal.
Now that you have seen the film read the book "Black Alibi" by Cornell Woolrich.
Publicist Dennis O’Keefe (Jerry) turns up with a leopard for his girlfriend Jean Brooks (Kiki) to use in her act and to draw attention away from her rival act Margo (Clo Clo) the castanet dancer. Bad news – the leopard escapes and a body count follows. Can the town stop the killings?
This film has three memorable killing sequences that are super tense and will have you going “Oh no!” as well as many other scenes where there is killing potential and you just don’t know what will happen. It’s well shot, its short length keeps you interested and the cast do fine. You may guess how things will pan out but this doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the story. I wouldn’t say it’s obvious although I did guess correct towards the end.
What a bitch mother that Kate Drain Wilson (Senora Delgado) is. Imagine doing that to your daughter! Poor daughter Margaret Landry (Teresa Delgado) encounters a very real nightmare. As does the girl in the cemetery.
So, get out your castanets and start clicking but don’t go freaking out leopards with them. They just might remember who you are.