Leopard Man, The (1943): Tourneur’s Superb Horror Film

Jacques Tourneur directed The Leopard Man, a superbly mounted horror film, based on the book “Black Alibi” by Cornell Woolrich.

The Leopard Man
The Leopard Man (1943 poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster

Our Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

Set in New Mexico, the tale begins as Jerry Manning (Dennis O’Keefe) hires a leopard as  publicity stunt for his night-club performer girlfriend, Kiki (Jean Brooks). Her rival at the club, Clo-Clo (Margo), not wanting to be upstaged, startles the animal and it escapes.

The owner of the leopard, a solo sideshow performer named Charlie How-Come—billed as “The Leopard Man”—begins pestering Manning for money for replacement of the leopard.

Soon a girl is found mauled to death, and Manning and Kiki feel guilty for unleashing the monster. After attending the girl’s funeral, Manning joins a posse to hunt down the giant cat.

When another young woman is killed, Manning begins to suspect that the killing is the work of a man makes the death look like leopard attack. The leopard’s owner, unnerved by Manning’s theory, begins to doubt his own sanity, and asks the police to lock him up.

But while in jail, another killing occurs, Clo-Clo herself. Afterward, the leopard is found dead in the countryside; he had died before the recent killings.

When the human murderer is finally found, he confesses that his compulsion to kill was motivated by the first leopard attack.

Among many distinctions, it is one of the first American films to deal with the issue of serial killing.

Upon initial release, The Leopard Man received mixed reviews, dismissed as a feeble horror flick, failing to recognize its effective and efficient storytelling and production values. However, over the years, as a result of evaluation by major critics such as Andrew Sarris, the movie has acquired a cult following and is now considered a cult horror classic, one of the greatest horror films ever made

Cast
Dennis O’Keefe as Jerry Manning
Margo as Clo-Clo
Jean Brooks as Kiki Walker
Isabel Jewell as Maria, The Fortune Teller
Marguerite Sylva as Marta
Abner Biberman as Charlie

Credits:

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Produced by Val Lewton
Written by Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 novel, Black Alibi
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography Robert De Grasse
Edited by Mark Robson
Distributed by RKO.

Release date: May 8, 1943

Running time: 66 minutes

Note

TCM showed the movie on July 30, 2020.

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