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  • Writer's pictureAllan Major

The Leopard Man 1943 Reviewed

Featured Image For The Leopard Man 1943 Reviewed.   Poster for 'The Leopard Man,' depicting a green clawed hand reaching toward frightened characters with text warning of a strange, savage killer.
A savage killer stalks the night in 'The Leopard Man,' where those who step into the shadows might never escape the grasp of the monster's claws.

In the sleepy shadows of a New Mexico town, something stirs. A pulse quickens, a chill ripples down the spine. It's 1943 and the air crackles with the echo of castanets, the low growl of a predator cloaked in midnight fur. Jacques Tourneur, the poet of cinematic dread, weaves his spell, and Val Lewton, master of the macabre, pulls the strings. This is 'The Leopard Man'—a dance of terror, a waltz with the unknown.

Key Takeaways From This Movie

  • The power of suggestion: The film thrives on what is not seen. The leopard often operates in the shadows, implied by sound and reaction rather than explicit visuals. This leaves a potent impression on the viewer, where the unknown becomes even more terrifying.

  • Atmosphere over gore: "The Leopard Man" builds its horror through ominous lighting, suspenseful editing, a chilling score, and stark, unsettling imagery. The impact lies in the dread it evokes rather than relying on graphic violence.

  • Shadows of the human psyche: The film explores the darker impulses that simmer beneath the surface of normalcy. Fear, jealousy, and the struggle between our civilized selves and our untamed natures become intertwined with the mystery of the killer.

  • Ambiguity and open questions: Unlike many mystery movies, "The Leopard Man" resists a tidy resolution. This ambiguity forces the viewer to grapple with the possibility that darkness and the unknown could lie unresolved within their own lives.

  • The Lewton touch: The film demonstrates Val Lewton's signature style, including low-budget production values that enhance the eerie mood, psychologically complex characters, and exploration of societal fears through a subtle lens.

  • Noir influences: "The Leopard Man" is often categorized as film noir, with its blend of shadows, a femme fatale figure (Clo-Clo), and a sense of impending doom weaving through the narrative.

A woman sits tensely on a sofa, eyes wide, watching the classic horror film "The Leopard Man".
She wasn't sure if the scream came from the movie or escaped her own lips.

From the first flicker of celluloid, Lewton's touch is unmistakable. Images bleed into one another, a tapestry of night and unease. Tourneur's camera slithers through the streets, painting with stark chiaroscuro, transforming the mundane into the sinister. We meet Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks), a songbird in a gilded cage, her voice tinged with melancholy. Jerry Manning (Dennis O'Keefe), the smooth-talking promoter, seeks to ignite a spark with a publicity stunt—a black leopard on a leash, adding a touch of savagery to the nightclub scene.

But like all beasts, the leopard has a will of its own. It escapes, a phantom in the darkness. Fear descends upon the town. Could the gruesome death of a young girl be the work of this feral escapee, or is something more monstrous lurking? Clo-Clo (Margo), the fiery dancer, her eyes burning with ambition, adds fuel to the flames of suspicion. Her jealousy blazes against Kiki, whispering accusations as the body count rises. The leopard becomes a metaphor for the untamed that simmers just beneath the surface of civility.

The cast embodies the Lewton style - archetypes touched by shadows of complexity. O'Keefe brings a slick edge to Jerry Manning, desperate to succeed, while Brooks lends Kiki a fragility bordering on despair. It's in the supporting roles that the film truly shines—Tuulikki Paananen as the haunted fortune teller, Isabel Jewell as the enigmatic museum curator, and Abner Biberman as the leopard's stoic Native American owner. They spin a web of secrets around the central mystery.

'The Leopard Man', at times, feels more like a waking nightmare than a traditional horror film. The true terror lies in what lurks unseen, echoing Lewton's philosophy that the unseen is far more unsettling than the graphically depicted. One scene, etched into film history, exemplifies this: the stalking of a young woman down a deserted street, the sounds of her footsteps and the panting of the invisible predator the only hint to the terror that awaits. It's a masterclass in suspense, leaving the viewers' imaginations to fill in the gruesome blanks.

An older woman watches the horror movie "The Leopard Man", her face etched with fear.
Time blurred – was she a young girl again, terrified by the same shadowy threats?

The Paranoia Strikes

Tourneur is a conductor of shadows, and the film's score, a blend of ominous percussion and haunting strings, reflects this. There's a mournful tango of regret woven underneath Kiki's ballads, a dissonant melody accompanying Clo-Clo's seductive sway.

However, 'The Leopard Man' isn't without its flaws. It rushes to resolution, leaving loose threads and unanswered questions in its wake. The characters, while intriguing, lack the depth of those in Lewton's undisputed masterpieces like 'Cat People' and 'I Walked with a Zombie'. Nonetheless, it stands as a testament to the power of suggestion, the way it leaves an unshakable chill long after the credits roll.

To call 'The Leopard Man' simply a horror movie is a disservice. It is a study in the duality of human nature, a whispered question about what savagery might lie beneath our civilized veneer. If you have a taste for the atmospheric, the psychological, the films that whisper secrets long after the lights come up, then let yourself be drawn into the shadows of this 1943 gem.

And as the last notes fade, you might find yourself glancing over your shoulder into the darkness. Perhaps it's merely the lingering echo of a big cat's growl, or perhaps the unsettling reminder that within us all lurks a leopard, waiting to be unleashed.

And that is The Leopard Man 1943 Reviewed. Another classic horror movie with chilling noir influences. 

Stay tuned for more horror movie reviews


If You Liked The Leopard Man You Might Also Like These Films

  • Cat People (1942): Another iconic Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur collaboration. This film explores the psychological horror of a woman who believes she may be transforming into a panther. It shares a similar focus on atmospheric dread, lurking shadows, and the unsettling question of monstrousness within.

  • I Walked with a Zombie (1943): Also directed by Tourneur and produced by Lewton, this film blends Caribbean folklore with a gothic sensibility. A young nurse travels to a remote island to care for a woman caught in a strange state between life and death. Its themes of the uncanny, psychological uncertainty, and lush yet eerie visuals echo those found in "The Leopard Man."

  • The Seventh Victim (1943): A Val Lewton production directed by Mark Robson, this film follows a young woman who discovers a Satanic cult operating in the heart of New York City. It delivers the same sense of unease and the chilling implication of evil lurking just beneath the surface of normal society that makes "The Leopard Man" so memorable.

  • The Wolf Man (1941): This classic Universal monster movie stars Lon Chaney Jr. as a man cursed with lycanthropy. While less subtle than Lewton's work, it explores similar ideas of duality – the struggle between civilized man and the beast within – with an emphasis on gothic atmosphere.

  • The Body Snatcher (1945): This atmospheric horror film, directed by Robert Wise, stars Boris Karloff as a sinister cabman who provides corpses to a morally compromised doctor. It delves into the shadowy world of grave robbing and the unsettling intersection of science and the macabre. This shares a dark undercurrent and exploration of human darkness that resonate with "The Leopard Man."

The Leopard Man 1943 Reviewed FAQs

Q: What is "The Leopard Man" about?

*A: "The Leopard Man" is a 1943 thriller film directed by Jacques Tourneur, based on the novel "Black Alibi" by Cornell Woolrich. Set in a small New Mexico town, it revolves around a publicity stunt gone wrong when a black leopard, intended to spice up a nightclub act, escapes. A string of gruesome deaths follow, raising the question of whether the leopard is to blame or if a human killer is exploiting the fear and confusion.

Q: Who are the main characters in "The Leopard Man"?

*A: The main characters in the movie include:

  • Jerry Manning: A smooth-talking nightclub promoter who instigates the leopard stunt.

  • Kiki Walker: A melancholic singer whose act is overshadowed by the leopard.

  • Clo-Clo: A fiery dancer and Kiki's rival, whose jealousy makes her a suspect.

  • Dr. Galbraith: The enigmatic museum curator who provides insights on leopards and their behavior.

  • Charlie How-Come: The Native American detective investigating the killings.

Q: What is the running time of "The Leopard Man"? 

*A: The running time of "The Leopard Man" is approximately 66 minutes, making it a relatively short yet impactful thriller.

Q: Was a real leopard used in the movie as a publicity stunt? 

*A: Yes, a real black leopard was used for a publicity stunt in the movie. This reflects a historical reality within the entertainment industry as using exotic animals for promotional purposes was not uncommon at the time. The leopard's escape and the ensuing deaths drive the central conflict of the film.

Q: Who were the director and producer of "The Leopard Man"? 

*A: "The Leopard Man" was directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by Val Lewton. This duo is renowned for their influential series of low-budget horror and thriller films released by RKO Pictures in the 1940s. Their partnership was notable for prioritizing atmosphere and psychological tension over graphic visuals.

Q: What is the significance of the setting in "The Leopard Man"? 

*A: The film's setting in a sleepy, isolated New Mexico town heightens the sense of vulnerability and claustrophobia. The stark desert landscapes contrast with the enclosed spaces of the nightclub, amplifying the feeling of nowhere to hide as the leopard – and potentially the killer – prowls the streets.

Q: How does "The Leopard Man" explore the theme of fear? 

*A: "The Leopard Man" plays on several layers of fear:

  • Primal Fear: The presence of a dangerous predator loose in the town taps into a very basic human instinct for survival.

  • Fear of the Unknown: The film masterfully uses suggestion and shadow, implying the leopard's presence more often than actually showing it. This leaves both the characters and the audience with a lingering dread fueled by imagination.

  • Fear of Human Darkness: The possibility that the killings are the work of a human murderer preying on the town's fear highlights how our own destructive impulses can be the most terrifying monster of all.


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