For Reel

The Leopard Man (1943)
November 1, 2015, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jacques Tourneur
4 Stars
The Leopard ManIn the most memorable scene from The Leopard Man, a young girl (Margaret Landry) confronts and is brutally mauled by a black panther. The sequence plays out with a thick level of paranoia–the girl has heard stories of the loose animal, and has even been teased by her family that it is not something that should concern her. When she meets a railroad overpass, she hesitates for an inordinate amount of time, looking behind her and back towards the darkness, slowly succumbing to its pull. In the way that the girl has the foresight to know the dangers that might lurk beneath and finding herself unable to resist confronting her fears and crossing anyway, the moment is evocative of everything that makes Val Lewton’s films remarkable. She is not ambivalent towards death, but she is seduced by it. And, although little more is seen of the actual cat than what a young boy has shadow puppeteered on a wall (a black figure, a symbol of death), the use of sound and shadows evokes unspeakable horrors. If The Leopard Man doesn’t quite live up to director Jacques Tourneur’s masterpieces with Lewton (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie), it is not far behind. The narrative is loosely structured around a series of killings as if in a slasher film, but Tourneur’s transitions and handling of the material is remarkable. Before the story shifts to the young girl running groceries, Tourneur’s camera has followed a local dancer (Margo) walking down a street, her castanets echoing through the girl’s home. Their interconnectedness points to the screenplay’s fascination with a sense of fatalism, echoed most blatantly as characters ponder a ball bouncing on top of a fountain as a metaphor for man’s obliviousness towards the forces that pull them.

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