Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Searching For a Pre-Heisenberg Ripper, or Thoughts on The Leopard Man

Let’s get one thing straight; there’s nothing supernatural about The Leopard Man (1943), there are no were-leopards in this stylish film noir by director Jacques Tournier, producer Val Lewton, the same team who made the original Cat People (1942), which, no spoilers, was all about were-cats.   The Leopard Man follows the rivalry between two nightclub performers in 1940's New Mexico, Clo-Clo the flamenco dancer and Kiki the torch singer.  A black panther escapes after a botched publicity stunt and coincidentally, young women start getting slashed to death.  What’s Kiki and her manager boyfriend Jerry to do, but look for the killer?
With snappy dialogue and gorgeous black and white composition, Val Lewton and Jacques Tournier created their signature blend of atmospheric oppression and subterranean (this is 1942, people) dark, dangerous sexuality.  The violence is implied, but the sense of terror is effectively conveyed through performance, shadows and especially sound.  Clo-Clo’s nervous castanet playing as she walks down a late night street builds tension and dread without actually showing anything, proving once again that with proper direction and good script, less is truly more.
Watch out for the same black leopard from Cat People (1942), I suppose that qualifies as a cameo.  His name was “Dynamite”, and because the Internet exists, he has his own IMDb page.

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