OOM #7 – The Leopard Man (1943)


It’s been a while since I saw a masterpiece in this October Overlook Madness, and I’m so glad that it was this movie by Jacques Tourneur, one of those directors that continually surprise with the way that they solve problems that are inherent to the audiovisual work. I’m already falling behind on reviews due to Valdivia Film Festival, but I’ll try for as long as I can.

There’s a way in which Tourneur just films the aftermath of violence that’s genuinely interesting and almost revolutionary, from the first scratch that the leopard leaves on the hand of a waiter when it escapes to the now classic sequence of the first killing, where we only see the blood flowing from the other side of the door. Everything happens outside, much like the set of main characters that drive the final investigation, they come from Chicago, far from the Latino town they are in, where their actions disrupt the way people live in more ways that they can imagine. But they’re not really important, as Tourneur shifts the focus from one character to the next, living and showing their lives, as if it were a river novel, a short story with multiple narrators, a kaleidoscope of inclusiveness and death.

The release of a leopard at the start of the film isn’t more or less important than the alcoholism of the leopard tamer, or the way that the museum curator explains to a woman the origin of the hooded men and their walk through town, or how the dancer gets enough money for her children and mother, everything is a little tidbit of information as the plot is scattered around in town giving a sensation that it’s “lived-in”, with an insight in 66 minutes that 3 seasons of most TV series would envy. The film is the precursor of many genres, some have mentioned giallo, but this is maybe the earliest example of a classic slasher, where the killer is secret, revealed at the end, and the reasons behind his killings are obscure and maybe even un-understandable compared to what a criminal killer in a noir film would do.

There’s just something about the lives of the people represented here that becomes compassionate and one ends up caring about everyone, victims, investigators and even the killer behind it all. There’s no Leopard Man, as no one turns into a leopard, but the spirit of the animal permeates everything. The fear of the animal, as it attacks, hysterical under the pressure of those chasing him, and how its carcass becomes such an important element (we can even “see” it, even though we never actually do). There’s just so much to say about this film and I know I’ll end up having lots more in the future. Right now I’m happy, it’s just a film that seems to contain the whole world in it, and it’s about a slasher killer.


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