A moment can be as short as a breath or as long as eternity.
Jerry Manning (Dennis O’Keefe) is a public relations man. He rents a leopard from a local man named Charlie How-Come (Abner Biberman). He bills himself as The Leopard Man. Manning means to use it as a publicity stunt for his girlfriend Kiki (Jean Brooks). She is a night-club performer. Kiki struts into the club with the leopard on a leash while her rival at the club, Clo-Clo (Margo), is performing. Not wanting to be upstaged Clo-Clo startles the animal. The cat bolts out of the club into the night.
A search is started for the cat. Soon a girl is found mauled to death. Her death is not seen but heard and it is enough to actually scare you. It was shocking because your imagination filled in the blanks. Again the police search. Dr. Galbraith (James Bell) tells the others that the cat has most likely left the city and is in the country somewhere. The second person murdered is a young woman from a family of means. Locked in the cemetery alone. Again her death is heard and not seen. What we do see is a play of shadows, branches in the breeze. Or is it a breeze? Manning begins to suspect that the latest killing is the work of a man who has made the death look like a leopard attack.
The leopard's owner, who admits to spells of drunkenness, is unnerved by Manning's theory and begins to doubt his own sanity. He asks the police to lock him up. While he is in jail another killing occurs. This time Clo-Clo is the victim. The leopard is found dead in the countryside. It died before at least one of the recent killings.
“The Leopard Man” was released in 1943. It was directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by Val Lewton. The movie was based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich called “Black Alibi”. It’s a short movie, only 66 minutes long. The leopard’s name is Dynamite and is the same leopard that starred in “Cat People”. It is the third and final collaboration between Tourneur and Lewton. Not only is “The Leopard Man” a slasher movie, but also a serial killer film.
“The Leopard Man” is a horror/thriller and a film noir and probably my favorite Val Lewton film. There are critics that panned it. I found the movie intense and eerie. Plus the noir aspects made the movie visually creepy. Even a breeze is suspicious. Lewton and Tourneur’s use of sound is a part of the mood. The atmosphere is dripping with sinister foreboding and electrified with terror. It may not be the best made Lewton film, but it makes up for it in its dark atmosphere and mood. I was far from bored.