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|The Leopard Man|
Theatrical release poster by William Rose
|Directed by||Jacques Tourneur|
|Produced by||Val Lewton|
|Written by||Ardel Wray|
|Based on||Black Alibi|
by Cornell Woolrich
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Cinematography||Robert De Grasse|
|Edited by||Mark Robson|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures Inc.|
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 (Dennis O'Keefe) hires a leopard as a publicity stunt for his night-club performing girlfriend, Kiki (Jean Brooks). Her rival at the club, Clo-Clo (Margo), 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 is finally found, he confesses that his compulsion to kill was excited by the first leopard attack.
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Upon the its initial theatrical release, The Leopard Man received mixed reviews. In their 1943 review of the film, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film "Half-baked", and wrote, "The Leopard Man is nothing but a feeble and obvious attempt to frighten and shock the audience with a few exercises in mayhem."
In the subsequent years, following the film's release, modern critical response has been mostly positive, with many critics praising the film's atmosphere, direction, and suspense. On Rotten Tomatoes, The Leopard Man holds an approval rating of 89% based on , with a weighted average rating of 7.37/10.
Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine awarded the film four out of four stars, praising Tourneur's use of sound and shadows to create tension. Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews rated the film a grade A, writing, "Tourneur's fast-paced film is armed with a taut and intelligent script, and is one of those memorable films that gets even better with age like a good wine."
The Leopard Man has gradually acquired a cult following over the years, and is now considered a cult classic. It has been included in multiple lists at various media publications as one of the greatest horror films ever made. Indiewire placed it at #90 in their "The 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All-Time".Slant Magazine listed it at #31 in their "The 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time".