Directed by Jacques Tourneur [Other horror films: Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Night of the Demon (1957), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), War-Gods of the Deep (1965)]
Often moody and rather atmospheric, this early 40’s film has a lot to offer fans of classic horror. There’s a plot that keeps you guessing, some characters who actually feel human, and great suspenseful sequences throughout.
While I suspect nothing about the film would shock fans of the genre today, the plot overall is pretty fun, and also a bit unique, what with the main characters (Dennis O’Keefe and Jean Brooks) feeling guilty about the escape of a leopard in their possession, subsequently causing the death of a teenage girl. It gives the film a pretty somber tone, which pretty much lasts the whole of the film, including the conclusion.
Speaking of which, the conclusion was damn fun, especially the scene during the procession of monks, which including chanting and pretty intimidating men in hoods. Pretty much everything about the ending was a lot of fun, though I sort of wish there was a bit more oompf.
The suspense was great in this one, and we even got what’s now the ordinary shot of a person yelling, banging on a door, then seconds later, blood pouring from the bottom of the door. It definitely wasn’t shocking by today’s standards, but for 1943, that struck me as surprisingly racy.
I saw this for the first time something like five years ago, perhaps as many as seven or eight, and it always stuck with me, because it certainly seems like a movie ahead of it’s time. Very little around this same time period had the same feel as this one, so The Leopard Man is definitely a memorable film.
Aside from O’Keefe (who also starred in You’ll Find Out, from 1940, which I saw just a few days before this writing) and Brooks, the only other performance to really stand out here was James Bell, who played a somewhat interesting character. From the face alone, Bell isn’t an actor I know that well, though he did appear in another horror classic, I Walked with a Zombie, which is a film I’ve not actually seen up to this point [edit: though I have now]. Abner Biberman was decent, as was Margaret Landry in her short sequence, but ultimately, O’Keefe, Brooks, and Bell are the only three who really made a difference.
The only downside of The Leopard Man was that some of the padding (which itself is somewhat amusing, given the film’s just an hour and six minutes) struck me as a bit much. One of the final kills, while certainly welcomed, had a longer set-up than I was hoping for, and I felt just a bit bored during that sequence.
This said, otherwise The Leopard Man is a pretty enjoyable and forward-thinking film, and I think that from a modern-day perspective, this has a lot to offer horror fans. If this one has escaped your notice, I’d certainly recommend taking a look.
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