The Leopard Man (1943): Dated and Over-rated

The Leopard Man (1943)

An escaped leopard is linked with the grisly murders of three young women in a small New Mexico town. (1943 RKO. Directed by Jacques Tourneur 96 mins)

Produced by Val Lewton
Based on the novel ‘Black Alibi’ by Cornell Woolrich
Film Editing by Mark Robson
Original Music by Roy Webb

A low-budget thriller from Val Lewton’s horror production unit at RKO based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, The Leopard Man, despite a strong film-making team and spooky noir lighting, looks dated and apart from the famous expressionist sequence, where a young latino girl is sent out into a dark night with a leopard on the loose, to buy corn-meal for her mother, is visually flat. But even the scenes with the terrified young girl are inferior to a similar sequence in Tourneur’s earlier and far superior Cat People (1942) from the same production unit.

The Leopard Man (1943)

The Leopard Man lacks tension and the drama is muddied by a soppy romantic angle, and any viewer who is half-awake will pick the culprit very early on.

Overall, The Leopard Man is disappointing and over-rated.

This is some background and an alternate take from Mayer and McDonnell, ‘Encylcopedia of Film Noir’:

RKO bought the rights to Woolrich’s next novel, Black Alibi (1942), for $5,175 and gave it to producer Val Lewton, who had just completed two memorable low-budget horror films, Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Lewton, working with screenwriter Ardel Wray, proceeded to change the setting of Woolrich’s novel from Latin America to New Mexico. They also altered the story line and the title of Woolrich’s book was changed to The Leopard Man (1943). Woolrich’s five sequences involving different women who are stalked by a killer jaguar and, subsequently, a man, were changed to two deaths, with only the first one caused by a black leopard, instead of a jaguar. However, the first killing, a young girl sent by her mother into the night to buy bread for the family, remains one of the most frightening moments in the cinema as Tourneur blends silence, natural sounds, and stylized lighting with images that capture the terror of the young girl as she moves through the darkness toward her house, only to discover that her mother has locked the door. Her death is presented mainly by the use of sound and lighting.

The Leopard Man (1943)

9 thoughts on “The Leopard Man (1943): Dated and Over-rated”

  1. Indeed, there a number of horror fans who feel this way, and understandably. On balance, THE LEOPARD MAN is not one of Val Lewton’s most consumate pieces from the classic series. Yet, it is still worthwhile for some splendid and shuddery set pieces from the film’s first reel involving a nocturnal walk of a young girl from her home to a grocery store, and the tragic conclusion of teh famed sequence. THE LEOPARD MAN does fizzle near the end, which is both stilted and predictable, (the killer is known early on in fact) but the earlier scenes are among Lewton’s finest work. Yes, I know he didn’t direct, but his mark was all over this film and virtually all the others.


  2. “RKO bought the rights to Woolrich’s next novel, Black Alibi (1942), for $5,175 and gave it to producer Val Lewton.”…Wow!…I wasn’t aware of the fact, that the film “The Leopard Man” was based on author Cornell Woolrich’s book “Black Alibi.”

    I am sure that author Cornell Woolrich’s book “Black Alibi” is great but, for some unknown reason I am just not interested in Val Lewton’s produced films.
    Even though I have watched a couple of his (Val Lewton) films…such as, “Cat People” “The Curse of the Cat People” “The Leopard Man” and “The Seventh Victim.”


  3. Oops! I am so sorry!…I don’t mean to “offend” any admirers of producer Val Lewton’s films,(my choice to “ignore” his films are personal!) but I was just so tired of “pretending” for a year and half that I was interested in his films whenever the subject turned to his films on message board(s). Will I ever purchase his recently released boxset? I am so sorry! to say, but I don’t think so!


  4. Tony: thanks this movie was on TCM recently forgot to write down the name was there a song titled “Ah Woe Ah Me” performed in this movie? ralph


  5. Tony: thanks could be I was thinking of the movie “I Walked With A Zombie” that also aired on TCM recently. I appreciate your help as locating knowledgeable sources for off the mainstream movies is not easy. ralph


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