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The Leopard Man Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

The Leopard Man Large

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Ardel Wray (based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich)
1943, 66 minutes, Not Rated
Released on July 30th, 2019

Starring:
Dennis O’Keefe as Jerry Manning
Margo as Clo-Clo
Jean Brooks as Kiki Walker
Isabel Jewell as Maria the Fortune Teller
James Bell as Dr. Galbraith
Margaret Landry as Teresa Delgado
Abner Biberman as Charlie How-Come

The Leopard Man 01 The Leopard Man 02

Review:

In a New Mexico nightclub, singer Kiki Walker is presented with a large black leopard as a publicity stunt by her manager Jerry Manning. The idea is to upstage rival performer Clo-Clo by making a grand entrance into the club during her act. Clo-Clo is unimpressed and scares the animal away, leaving Jerry and Kiki holding the bag for a wild animal on the loose. Police search the area with no luck and soon the leopard is prowling the streets looking for something to eat. A young girl is attacked outside her apartment door and another woman dies in a cemetery. Jerry and Kiki begin to suspect the leopard may not be responsible for the killings. The town is on edge as the deaths continue to mount and the killer remains at large.

Legendary producer Val Lewton (The Body Snatcher) teams with acclaimed director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People) to create The Leopard Man, a hair-raising murder mystery that inspired countless filmmakers for decades to come. The picture serves as a precursor to Italy’s giallo films, laying the groundwork for that subgenre to follow some twenty years later. Written by Ardel Wray (I Walked with a Zombie), based on the novel Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich, the script plays with narrative structure and is quick to detour from the principal characters. We follow potential victims as they are placed in dangerous environments, leaving audiences on edge with each new introduction. Tourneur is a master at generating suspense and doesn’t shy away from some of the tougher story points but rather he creates standout moments that drip with atmosphere.

The Leopard Man is a misnomer, as there is no crazy hybrid creature on display. Instead, this is one of the first films to address the idea of a serial killer and it is amazing to see how many elements introduced here continue to appear in movies today. All of the victims are women, each of whom is alone at the time of their death, stalked by an unseen monster. When the police prove inefficient, our heroes take it upon themselves to solve the mystery. The first death is particularly tough and beautifully staged with mounting tension as we hear the girl’s pleas for help before she is murdered. This scene is quite jarring, especially by 1943 standards. One of the themes of the picture deals with the idea of fate and how we are helpless to control it. The metaphor is a bit thick, but adds a palpable sense of dread to the material.

The Leopard Man 03 The Leopard Man 04

Dennis O’Keefe (Lady of Vengeance) stars as the opportunistic talent manager Jerry Manning, the man responsible for the leopard’s appearance. He plays it tough, but feels guilty for his actions and joins the police in search of the animal. O’Keefe is your typical 1940s protagonist who seems to have his life together and does the right thing in a crisis, but is deeply flawed by his poor choices. The beautiful Margo (Lost Horizon) co-stars as Clo-Clo, the doomed night club performer obsessed with her fate. She frequents a fortune teller who never seems satisfied by what the cards are telling her and goes out of her way to avoid any negative influence. Margo has a tremendous screen presence and makes the role feel larger than it is. Leading lady Jean Brooks (The Seventh Victim) receives third billing, but does a fine job as entertainer Kiki Walker. She has a few standout moments, but is largely relegated to sidekick or woman in need of saving.

This film broke new ground in terms of narrative structure and editing style. The unconventional approach to storytelling keeps things fresh and exciting, as the audience is never too sure who the protagonist really is. The stylistic lighting design captures the tone of a film noir and makes great use of the shadows. Producer Val Lewton was known for his production design and mastery of story selection. The Leopard Man, while viewed as something of a lesser effort, remains a popular and influential title within the horror genre. The plot moves at a brisk pace and delivers a number of quality scares that still pack a punch today. I can easily recommend picking this title up for your collection.

The Leopard Man 05 The Leopard Man 06

Video and Audio:

The original film elements have received a 4K scan and restoration and the results are stunning. Presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the picture is sharp without blemishes or scratches and features plenty of small-object detail missing from previous releases.

The original mono recording arrives in a remastered DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is clean and free from hiss, audio pops or other flaws. Dialogue levels are solid and well-balanced with music cues.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

There are two audio commentaries on this disc; the first is a newly recorded track with film historian Constantine Nasr. He discusses the story’s literary origins and adaptation before moving on to spotlight the creative pairing of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur. Other topics include a history of the production, casting and the critical response upon release. He also reads a personal letter from Lewton to his family, written during production.

Next is a vintage commentary with filmmaker William Friedkin (The Exorcist), who shares his reverence for the picture, pointing out themes and influential scenes. He offers his views on the horror genre and what makes Val Lewton films great.

The original theatrical trailer has been included.

A still gallery plays as a silent slideshow (9 minutes) offering a selection of promotional images, publicity photos, lobby cards and poster art.

The Leopard Man 09 The Leopard Man 10

Grades:

Movie: Threeandahalfstars The Leopard Man Small
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fourandahalfstars
Audio: Threeandahalfstars
Features: Twoandahalfstars
Overall: Threeandahalfstars

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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