The Leopard Man
the leopard man | jacques tourneur | ardel wray | dennis o'keefe | margo | jean brooks | based on | novel | cornell woolrich | film-noir | thriller | united states | val lewton | isabel jewell | james bell | margaret landry | abner biberman | tuulikki paananen | animal attack
Film: The Leopard Man
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writer: Ardel Wray
Starring: Dennis O’Keefe, Margo and Jean Brooks
This was a movie that I didn’t know what it was about, but I would bet it was a title that I had seen before. It would fall in line for my brain with Cat People, Alligator Men or The Mole People are other movies like this. What caught my attention when searching and then settling into watch was that it was directed by Jacques Tourneur. He’s someone that I’ve a few of their movies. It was also based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich as well.
Synopsis: a seemingly tame leopard, used for a publicity stunt, escapes and kills a young girl, spreading panic throughout a sleepy New Mexico town.
Then to flesh this out a bit more, we have Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks) as she is getting ready. At the same place as her is Gabriella who goes by Clo-Clo (Margo). She is more popular in this town being close to Mexico. The way she dances with clickers makes her the top act. Kiki is jealous. She is also friends with a fortune teller, Maria (Isabel Jewell). Everyone staying at this place is shocked when Kiki’s manager, Jerry Manning (Dennis O’Keefe), shows up with a leopard. He wants Kiki to walk with it into the club to get everyone’s attention.
This backfires when the leopard gets away from her. It scratches a waiter on the way out. The owner of the animal, Charlie How-Come (Anber Biberman) is upset. His animal is normally docile, but he is afraid it might hurt someone out of fear. Dennis as well as the police search for it.
We then have a great transition of Clo-Clo walking the streets and passing by the house of Teresa Delgado (Margaret Landry). She lives there with her mother, father and younger brother. Teresa is told to get cornmeal so her mother can make shells for her father when he gets home from work. Teresa is afraid though. Her mother forces her out and not to return unless she has the item. Teresa tries to get it at the closest store, but they’re closed. They refuse to open to help her. She must go under a bridge and to another place. Her way back is even more terrifying when she comes face to face with the leopard. She is killed.
The hunt for this animal continues. Charlie tries to convince the police that the animal would be hiding outside of town. It is hard to believe when Consuelo Contreras (Tuulikki Paananen) is attacked in the cemetery on her birthday. Dr. Galbraith (James Bell) is called in on both cases to examine the bodies. He notices there is fur of a leopard and claw marks. Jerry and Charlie want to find the animal before it is too late. There is also guilt for the stunt the former guy used it for. There then starts to be a wonder, maybe something or someone else is doing the killings.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is with the title. It is quite clever. I came in expecting a ‘were-leopard’ movie, akin to something like this team’s previous movie of Cat People. I’m not going to spoil this film. What I will say is that we are using similar plotlines, a similar animal, but this subverts expectations. It also explores the human psyche.
Now that I’ve laid that out, let me dig into more. We have this set in New Mexico. This is a small town and it is near the desert. Having Mexico being so close, we are getting religious and supernatural people. Out west also has folklore like ‘Skinwalkers’ which can become animals. Correlating to Cat People, that one features Serbian or Eastern European folklore from a small village. I like that this shows a similar concept, but just from a different mythology. I picked up elements of the history of the werewolf folklore from a documentary that I watched on where they believe that came from. What I like here is that there is a supernatural explanation that could be true. It also might be a more logical one as well.
What makes this work for me though are the character. I’ll also bring in the acting performances as well. O’Keefe is our lead, but I don’t think he carries this. I like that he feels sorry for his plan and wants to make it right. He seems like a good guy who made a bad choice. Margo, Brooks and Jewell are all solid in their roles. I like Bell as this doctor who is disturbed by what is happening. The same could be said for Biberman. He’s the one who made me think there could be a ‘were-animal’ and believing that it is him. There is a dichotomy of believing in myths and science that I like being explored. Other than that, Paananen, Landry and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
All that is left then to go into would be with filmmaking. I think that once again, this is shot beautifully. Not the best shot that I’ve seen from this director. That’s not to say that we don’t get great transitions. Examples there are when Clo-Clo is walking along the road, especially at night and how we will leave her to go another character. The scene with Teresa and the leopard is another good one. How it ends is heartbreaking for the implications. We don’t get a lot in the way of effects, but we don’t need it either. It isn’t that type of movie. We are also early into cinema as well. The soundtrack also fits what was needed. Special credit to Clo-Clo again with her hand clappers. We know it is her when you hear them and they’re used when she approaching which works well.
In conclusion, this is a well-made movie. What helps me enjoy this is the fact that this follows Cat People. They are not sharing characters and this isn’t a sequel. What it does though is borrow themes and uses them in a different way. I appreciate that to see the growth of a filmmaker. I’d say the acting is good here. No one necessarily stands out aside from Biberman in my opinion. This has good cinematography and use of sound with the hand clappers. One that I would recommend to fans of cinema for this era for at least one viewing.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10