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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.
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
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
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.
Well, for the most part, anyway. In a rural part of New Mexico, actress Kiki Walker is competing for attention with a local castanets dancer. Kiki's manager brings her a leopard on a leash so she can show the dancer up during her performance. Her rival one-ups her by snapping the castanets right in the leopard's face, which drives it wild. It breaks free from its mistress' grasp. As it flees from the night club, a waiter raises his hand: three bloody claw-marks from trying to stop the wild beast. The meat of the film is made up mostly from three tragedies resulting from the leopard - or do they? Okay, so the "or do they?" part isn't great, but those three tragedies are three of the best sequences in film history, no doubt. The first concerns a young girl forced by her mother to buy cornmeal in the middle of the night. Her younger brother meanly teases her by making leopard-shaped shadow puppets on the wall. The second involves a young girl who has gone to the graveyard to put flowers on her mother's grave, and also to meet with her lover. When she doesn't find him there, she becomes depressed and doesn't hear the groundskeeper's warning that he is locking the gate. The third happens to the castanet player, whose fortune teller turns up the ace of spades for her several times in a row without fail. An expert expresses the belief that the leopard could not have caused all of these events, so the film becomes, unfortunately, a whodunit. The answer is obvious immediately, even if it's not believable. Fortunately, the direction is so excellent, as well as the set pieces, that even with such a weak solution, the film is a near-masterpiece. 9/10.
A far better than average early film from the Val Lewton unit, The Leopard
Man is as much murder mystery as horror picture. It is set in a New Mexico
town where there are some weird goings on, including, among other things,
big cat attacks. The photography is exceptional, moving from subjective to
documentary-style objective without drastically altering the tone of the
picture. What horror there is comes more from a sense of dread than anything
that actually happens; also from the eerie feeling that certain places are
unlucky, that some people are bound to die simply because of where they are.
The star players are somewhat dull, but the supporting cast is quite good. And the merging and sometime colliding of the Anglo, Hispanic and Indian cultures is nicely presented. There is a sense of primitive feeling, of old religion, throughout the film, implied rather than stated, that is beyond the grasp of the hyper-rational lead players. We can catch this mood in fits and starts, but like the major characters, it eludes our grasp. Jacques Tourneur's direction is masterful every step of the way; and he uses music sensually yet emphatically, and the result is a fine-tuned film. It's major flaw is the revelation of the culprit, yet once Tourneur accepted the script's limitations he works superbly within them. The best thing about the movie is that its most crucial events happen mostly off-screen, leaving a good deal to our imaginations. And the minimalist script leaves a great deal in the dark, and even after the picture's florid, almost surreal climax, the air of mystery lingers. There are loose ends for sure, but Tourneur's polite, civilized touch dresses them up to appear profound and suggestive rather than threadbare, and the result is a pleasing conclusion that does not quite give the whole thing away; and we are left wanting to know just a little bit more. Tourneur was a true master.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In an age when serial killers are deified, what Val Lewton and company wrought so long ago must seem tame, indeed; quaint. But THE LEOPARD MAN is anything but a tame little "murder mystery": it's a spooky psycho-sexual story about a serial killer feeding (as is the serial killer's wont) on the innocent. Cornell Woolrich (whose novel BLACK ALIBI was the impetus for this film) was definitely ahead of the curve on this one and the Lewton approach (to suggest rather than to show; to imply rather than indulge) fits, if you'll pardon the allusion, like a glove... Woolrich and Lewton were both on the same wave length, and THE LEOPARD MAN comes highly recommended.
Slimly-plotted but handsomely-produced second-biller about an escaped leopard in a small dirt town in New Mexico that may be the cause of several horrific deaths...or maybe not! Intriguing premise given stylish film-noir treatment. Performances are solid, and Jacques Tourneur's crafty direction allows viewers to see just enough before fading to black. Val Lewton produced, giving the proceedings his customary spooky polish; Roy Webb's background score is predictably dramatic, though the intermittent use of dead silence is even more effective (and the castanets were a nice touch). Story tails off near the end, but film is still a minor gem. Fantastically atmospheric and fun. Based on the book "Black Alibi" by Cornell Woolrich. *** from ****
Dennis O'Keefe and Jean Brooks decide to elevate their act in New Mexico by having Brooks walk on-stage with a black leopard. The Mexican castanet dancer, Clo Clo(deliciously played by Margo), mashes the castanets menacingly at the cat, it flees, and a panic spreads amongst the people of the little village. Soon, one girl dies, then another, and another...and evidence points that a cat did it and later to something completely different. The Leopard Man is one of those rare films that is very effective with shadows and fog without showing anything. We never see any of the deaths happen "on-stage" so to speak. The imaginations of the viewers are enlisted to conjure up what might be the scene of each murder. Director Jacques Tournier and producer Val Lewton probably team up for their best collaboration. This film is laced with moody atmosphere, great pacing, quality performances, and a script worked over by the camera that enforces theme and symbolic meaning throughout. I found this film haunting, eerie, and poetic in its own way. O' Keefe, James Bell, Margo, Brooks, and the entire cast give credible turns and enforce our ability to accept what is going on.Some scenes are quite memorable: the young girl walking back home from the store is a classic scene of terror, the cemetery scene, and the procession of the monks allowed Tournier to work his magic with the lens. Tournier was always able to tell so much story with so little dialog. Though some might find the ending a bit of a letdown, I thoroughly enjoyed The Leopard Man.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Perhaps not as mysteriously beautiful as "Cat People" or not as nightmarish as "The Body Snatcher", but still this Val Lewton production equally is a solid horror milestone that should be viewed by everyone who wants to learn about the roots of atmospheric horror. The screenplay, adapted from the Woolich novel "Black Alibi", is simple ...yet powerful enough to provide the film with a good 60 minutes of pure tension. Soon after a leopard, hired from a traveling circus for a publicity stunt, escapes from a fancy nightclub, horribly mutilated bodies begin to turn up in a Mexican border town. Is the animal really tearing everyone on its path to pieces or is someone abusing the town's mass-hysteria to satisfy his/her own urge to kill? Director Jacques Tourneur once again proves himself to be a master in creating an unbearably tense atmosphere. His excessive use of shadows and darkness turns the sets into ominous places while the constant unnatural sounds keep you alert for possible animal-attacks! Who needs a budget when you've got this much talent and style? "The Leopard Man" is an excellent film, one to watch preferably in series with "I walked with a Zombie" and "Curse of the Cat People".
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