THE LEOPARD MAN. RKO, 1943. Cast: Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks, Isabell Jewell, Marguerite Silva, Abner Biberman, James Bell, Margaret Landry, Fely Franquelli, Ariel Heath, Tuulikki Paananen. Producer: Val Lewton. Writers: Ardel Wray and Edward Dein, based on the novel Black Alibi (1942) by Cornell Woolrich. Director: Jacques Tourneur.

   “You don’t get the idea, mister. These cops banging those pans, flashing those lights, they’re gonna scare that poor cat of mine. Cats are funny, mister. They don’t want to hurt you, but if you scare them they go crazy. These cops, they don’t know what they’re doing.”


   Despite what everybody says about The Leopard Man, it’s not really a horror film. Of course it looks and even sounds like one most of the time, and it’s true producer Val Lewton specialized in horror films (e.g., Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, etc.). Nevertheless, when you eliminate all the terror trappings, what’s left isn’t just a crime movie but an actual mystery film.

   It’s clear the intention was to ratchet up the suspense as much as possible — and then go beyond that. So it’s surprising to realize that just about every moment of violence is off screen; lighting and sound effects do the job of suggesting the horrors we don’t see.

   “Mamacita, let me in! Let me in! Let me in! If you love me, let me in!”


   When someone is attacked and murdered on one side of a door, we and another person on this side of it hear the violent scuffle but only see the victim’s blood oozing under the door.

   In a darkened cemetery dimly lit by a hazy moon, another victim is stalked by something unseen up in the trees. The camera focuses on the tree limbs as they creak downward and then spring up, with the attacker just out of visual range. All we hear is a muffled scream.

   The Leopard Man has many moments like that. The source material was Black Alibi, a 1942 novel by Cornell Woolrich.


   Numerous books and stories by Cornell Woolrich have been adapted for other media, such as these films: ‘Convicted’ (1938), ‘Street of Chance’ (1942), ‘Phantom Lady’ (1944), ‘The Mark of the Whistler’ (1944), ‘Deadline at Dawn’ (1946), ‘Black Angel’ (1946), ‘The Chase’ (1946), ‘Fall Guy’ (1947), ‘The Guilty’ (1947), ‘Fear in the Night’ (1947), ‘The Return of the Whistler’ (1948), ‘I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes’ (1948), ‘Night Has a Thousand Eyes’ (1948), ‘The Window (1949), ‘No Man of Her Own’ (1950), 6 episodes of the ‘Suspense’ TV series (1949-50), 3 segments of ‘Robert Montgomery Presents’ (1950-51), ‘Rear Window’ (1954), ‘Obsession’ (1954), ‘Nightmare’ (1956); 3 installments each of ‘Lux Video Theatre’ (1954-57), ‘The Ford Television Theatre’ (1955-57), ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ (1956-58), and ‘Thriller’ (1961); ‘The Bride Wore Black’ (1968), ‘You’ll Never See Me Again’ (1973, TVM), even ‘Mrs. Winterbourne’ (1996) — and this list of media adaptations is hardly exhaustive.