For this first edition of “Cat Classics on Film,” and just in time for Halloween, we review The Leopard Man, an RKO picture from 1943, starring Dennis O’Keefe and Jean Brooks and directed by Jacques Tourneur.
The story (contains spoilers!)
Imagine the sound of castanets. The clickety-clickety-clickety that is kind of nice for a song or two but gets on your nerves after a while. Well, performer Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks) is plagued by a castanet-playing colleague who is getting on her last nerve. But not to worry, Kiki’s publicist, Jerry Manning (Dennis O’Keefe), has a terrific idea! He’ll just borrow this fearsome black leopard for Kiki to take on stage with her, and everyone will forget all about Clo-Clo (the castanet performer). Kiki thinks this is maybe not such a good idea, but she goes along with it, tentatively leading the leopard out on a leash while Clo-Clo is performing. And it seems to work for one brief moment, as all attention turns to Kiki and her big black cat. Clo-Clo, however, gets all aggressive with the castanets, scaring the leopard, who escapes and runs away.
You can pretty much guess where this is going, can’t you?
Tragedy visits the poor, the rich, and Clo-Clo
After a girl from a poor family is killed by the leopard while going through the scary arroyo to buy cornmeal for her family, a posse is formed to hunt down the unfortunate cat. Her family is devastated, as are Kiki and Jerry. Things only get worse when a beautiful young woman from a wealthy family is killed, apparently by the leopard, on her birthday. So death comes for both the rich and the poor.
Jerry starts to have doubts about whether the leopard is actually responsible for this second death, and he has even more doubts after Clo-Clo is killed. He and Kiki decide to stay and investigate even after the other performers have gone.
A creepy expert, a tense climax
James Bell plays the creepy Dr. Galbraith, who is an expert in something (don’t ask us what, because old SoLT didn’t write it down, and now she can’t remember it). Anyway, this Dr. Galbraith basically creeps the place up, right up to the climactic scene between him and Kiki. Dr. Galbraith is nuts, but he does have what we thought was the movie’s best line:
“Cats are funny. They don’t want to hurt you, but if you scare them, they go crazy.”
Remember that, the next time you get the urge to click your castanets in a leopard’s face.
We enjoyed this film. We’d hoped for more cats (you really don’t see the leopard again after it runs away in that early scene, and you later learn that it has been killed). The Leopard Man is basically a 1940s horror film that includes a mystery and a love story. The mystery is not too mysterious, and for us the ending wrapped things up a little too quickly and in a way that was not entirely satisfying. But we thought that climactic scene in which Kiki confronts Galbraith was deliciously tense. Come on… You know who the bad guy is, and you think Kiki knows who he is, but does she really know what she’s getting herself into?
The Leopard Man is perfect for some good, clean, popcorn-munching fun.
A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws up. One paw is for a good movie; two paws is for a great movie. She never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie on her back...and Miss C does not do that!
The link below is an Amazon Associates link. If you purchase the movie through this link, old SoLT and I could get some coin for our kibble account.