Saturday, November 14, 2009

Film Review: THE LEOPARD MAN (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Notable Cast or Crew: Dennis O'Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks.
Tag-line: "Women alone are the victims of a strange, savage, killer!"
Best one-liner: "It may sound like music to her... I can do better with my teeth in a cold shower!"

"There's all sorts of men..." That's basic idea behind THE LEOPARD MAN. Not quite a statement, not quite a question; here the only certainty about human behavior is our inability to understand it. The film posits that we know as much about the forces that drive us as does a decorative ball, dancing upon a fountain's waterspout.
Dark, shadowy, and atmospheric, some have called this a prototype for the modern-day slasher. I'm not entirely prepared to go that far, but I have to agree that this is a damn good movie (but not quite as good as the other two Tourneur/ Lewton collaborations, CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, which are incontrovertible classics).

Right off the bat, I'll say that if you've ever complained that "this movie I'm watching doesn't have enough castanets," then get ready to go hog wild. THE LEOPARD MAN probably has more per capita castanet action than anything else in the history of film, even counting Saura's Flamenco Trilogy. The character of Clo-Clo is a "castanet virtuoso," and she just can't stop the castanets, she just can't stop, she just CAN'T STOP!
You can't stop the music. Nobody can stop the music.

There are some puzzling, lovably eccentric curiosities in this film as well: Why does everyone in the film pronounce "posse" as "poss-say?" (Maybe for the same reason that Bogart always pronounces "bourbon" as "bore-bun?) What kind of mother sends her daughter out across a dangerous desert at midnight to pick up tortillas? And why does the woman who reads peoples' cards use a deck of ordinary playing cards instead of Tarot? And since when does the Ace of Spades=Death? Well, I say: Who cares?! This only adds to the film. There's foxy cigarette gals, some super-creepy a cappella birthday singing, some eerie riffs on the power of suggestion, and a little guy who apparently blacks out EVERY TIME he drinks, as he seems to think he could be the Leopard Man because he was "drinking" the night before one of the murders. Wow. Creepy, artistic, and off-the-wall: four stars.

Edit: Evidently I'm an ignoramus, and the Ace of Spades has ALWAYS meant 'death.' Though further research revealed that in 90%+ of cases, it signifies the death of circumstances, not of people.


skeelo said...

We NEED those tortillas YESTERDAY daughter!! VAMOS

Sean Gill said...

Ha!- one of my favorite parts.