Leopard Man, The (1943)

The Leopard Man (1943), produced by Val Lewton, directed by Jacques Tourneur.

First review

If you were in a New Mexico resort town where a black panther was prowling and leaving mangled corpses from time to time, would you go walking around at night? And might it be possible for a murderer to use the cat as cover for his own opportunistic mayhem?

A small film only 66 minutes long, but with plenty of scare moments. It sometimes diverts into little human interest sidelines. From a story by Cornell Woolrich.

Most critics view this as one of the slightest films in the series, but this essayist gets quite a lot of good out of it: The Strange Pleasure of the Leopard Man.

Rambling but heartfelt commentary track by William Friedkin. He tends to summarize what we are already seeing.

Second review

It begins with a publicity stunt: at a nightclub in a New Mexico resort town, a women appears with a black leopard on a leash to spoil another woman's dance routine. It's not so funny when the cat escapes and we have a series of horrific death-by-maulings, and the guilt-inducing knowledge that the rich anglos are abusing the local poor Mexicans.

But wait: we begin to suspect that the cat did only the first killing, and that the others are done by a psycho using the predator as a cover. Who could it be... well, they try some misdirection but there is only one plausible candidate.

Filming on a dark studio lot gives it a dreamlike quality, particularly in the first half. We have three tense murder scenes, all lone women in the dark:

This is considered one of the minor efforts in Lewton's RKO thriller series, and you can see why. It's not stitched together very well. After 20 minutes we encounter a new set of people and after 40 minutes yet another new group. The resolution is slack, but in a way that is also dreamlike: dreams don't always have climactic resolution, but sort of wander and fade out.


Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory with two commentary tracks: