Release dateMay 8, 1943 (1943-05-08) Based onBlack Alibi
by Cornell Woolrich WriterArdel Wray (screenplay), Edward Dein (additional dialogue), Cornell Woolrich (novel) ScreenplayCornell Woolrich, Edward Dein, Ardel Wray CastDennis O'Keefe (Jerry Manning), Margo (Clo-Clo), Jean Brooks (Kiki Walker), Isabel Jewell (Maria - Fortune Teller), James Bell (Dr. Galbraith), Margaret Landry (Teresa Delgado) Similar moviesDrag Me to Hell, Cat People, Sleepwalkers, Intruders, I Walked with a Zombie, Cat People
TaglineWoman alone the victims of strange, savage killer!
The Leopard Man is a 1943 horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur based on the book Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich. It is one of the first American films to attempt an even remotely realistic portrayal of a serial killer (although that term was yet to be used).
The story, set in New Mexico, begins as Jerry Manning hires a leopard as a publicity stunt for his night-club performing girlfriend, Kiki. Her rival at the club, Clo-Clo, not wanting to be upstaged, startles the animal and it escapes the club into the dark night. The owner of the leopard, a solo sideshow performer named Charlie How-Come—billed as "The Leopard Man"—begins pestering Manning for money for replacement of the leopard.
Soon a girl is found mauled to death, and Manning and Kiki feel remorse for having unleashed the monster. After attending the girl's funeral, Manning joins a posse that seeks to hunt down the giant cat. Presently another young woman is killed, and 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, but while he is in jail another killing occurs: the victim this time is Clo-Clo. Afterward, the leopard is found dead in the countryside, and is judged to have died before at least one of the recent killings. When the human murderer in finally found, he confesses that his compulsion to kill was excited by the first leopard attack.
Dennis O'Keefe as Jerry Manning
Margo as Clo-Clo
Jean Brooks as Kiki Walker
Isabel Jewell as Maria, The Fortune Teller
Marguerite Sylva as Marta
Abner Biberman as Charlie
The film was made on a budget of $150,000.
The same black leopard (named "Dynamite") used in Cat People, another Val Lewton-produced film, was brought back for this film.
Although at least one preview trailer for the film suggests the possibility of a killer "half-man half-leopard", everything in the film itself implies the killer is leopard or a man simulating leopard attacks. The possibility of a man-beast hybrid is never raised in the film itself, only in the trailer.
Most reviews of the film are positive, while noting that it is less challenging or thematically dense than the other Lewton/Tourneur films such as Cat People.
TV Guide's review of the film praises the low budget effort: "this film, along with Lewton and Tourneur's other collaborations, proves once again that money is not the most essential element in good filmmaking. Robert de Grasse's gorgeously fluid camerawork creates the absolutely chilling mood of this film."
Turner Classic Movies review of the film also notes the $150,000-budgeted film looked more expensive on screen: "Much credit for the Lewton/Tourneur successes is owed to the talented craftsmen of RKO—under the guidance of cinematographer Robert de Grasse and art directors Albert D'Agostino and Walter Keller—who were adept at transforming cheap underlit sets into the stuff of nightmares, where every darkened nook housed a potential menace."