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  Leopard Man, The The Fear Of The Cat
Year: 1943
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Stars: Dennis O'Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks, Isabell Jewell, James Bell, Ben Bard, Abner Biberman, Margaret Landry
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 3 votes)
Review: Showbiz promoter Jerry (Dennis O'Keefe) thinks up a great gimmick for his new singing act (Jean Brooks) - he has her make her entrance holding a black leopard on a leash. But the animal gets frightened, breaks free, and escapes into the New Mexico town. When girls are murdered, the leopard gets the blame, but Jerry has other ideas... what if the leopard is not responsible at all?

This gloomy horror was written by Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, an adaptation of a Cornell Woolrich novel, Black Alibi. It marked another big cat based film for Jacques Tourneur and producer Val Lewton, after the previous year's Cat People, and like most of the Lewton cult chillers, contains textbook examples of spooky suspense scenes to freeze the blood in your veins.

The characters make philosophical musings on the way fate controls their lives, but it's really the spectre of death that hangs over them. The murder sequences are superbly handled, especially the first where a teenage girl making her way home at night (bad idea) is apparently chased by the leopard. She manages to reach her house, but her sceptical mother doesn't open the lock in time, despite the girl's screams of "If you love me, let me in!" When her blood seeps under the front door, we know it's too late for her.

Frivolity and innocence count for little in the face of ever-present death. The young girl who goes to a cemetery to meet her boyfriend ends up getting locked in, and we know where this will lead her. The night's impenetrable shadows, howling wind and unwelcoming loneliness add up to a formidable atmosphere that Tourneur easily exploits. It's one of those films where, if a chain-smoking gypsy asks you to pick a card, it'll be the Ace of Spades.

It's not perfect: the brash hero has a cowardly, selfish streak to overcome (so it's none too convincing that he should solve the mystery), and new characters seem to be introduced every ten minutes, but this remains one of Lewton's strongest productions due to its tension and overwhelmingly melancholy air. Listen for the way they avoid singing "Happy Birthday to You". Music by Roy Webb, which is heavy on the castanets.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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