The Leopard Man

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).[1]

The Leopard Man
theatrical release poster
Directed byJacques Tourneur
Produced byVal Lewton
Written byArdel Wray
Edward Dein
Based onBlack Alibi
1942 novel
by Cornell Woolrich
StarringDennis O'Keefe
Jean Brooks
Music byRoy Webb
CinematographyRobert De Grasse
Edited byMark Robson
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures Inc.
Release date
  • May 8, 1943 (1943-05-08)
Running time
66 minutes
CountryUnited States


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.



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.

Critical reaction

On Rotten Tomatoes, The Leopard Man holds an approval rating of 88% based on 17 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 7.37/10.[2]

Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film two and a half out of four stars, calling it "[an] Intriguing but flawed Val Lewton thriller".[3] Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews gave the film a grade of 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."[4] TV Guide awarded the film three out of four stars, writing, "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."[5] Ed Gonzalez from Slant Magazine awarded the film 4 out of 4 stars, praising the film's cinematography, use of sound, and Tourneur's direction.[6]

The film wasn't without its detractors. 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."[7]


  1. Preston, Scott. "The Strange Pleasure of the Leopard Man: Gender, Genre and Authorship in a Val Lewton Thriller". CineAction 71. Archived from the original on 2009-12-03. Retrieved 2010-02-20.
  2. "The Leopard Man (1943)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
  3. Leonard Maltin; Spencer Green; Rob Edelman (January 2010). Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. Plume. p. 370. ISBN 978-0-452-29577-3.
  4. Schwartz, Dennis (December 18, 2004). "leopardman". Ozus' World Movie Reviews. Dennis Schwartz. Archived from the original on April 30, 2019. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
  5. "The Leopard Man - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV Guide. Retrieved August 23, 2019.
  6. Gonzalez, Ed. "Review: The Leopard Man – Slant Magazine". Slant Ed Gonzalez. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  7. Crowther, Bosley (May 20, 1943). "Boo to You". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2019.


  • Val Lewton Horror Collection DVD documentary 2005
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