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JACQUES TOURNEUR DIRECTS 'THE LEOPARD MAN' FOR VAL LEWTON

YEAR OF RELEASE: 1943 Rating: ****
An alternative title for THE LEOPARD MAN produced by b-movie guru Val Lewton and directed by his stock suspense master Jacques Tourneur could be called DOORS THAT DON'T OPEN ON TIME, but that would be a spoiler in itself within this turnaround of their most well-known collaboration and ultimately superior CAT PEOPLE, only this underrated gem purrs a bit smoother, is less character-driven and is a tad spookier, more ominous and far more often...

The first two victims of a black leopard that escaped because of a practical joke on a samba dancer (who uses castanets in a spine-chilling, echoing manner), working in a low-rent nightclub, are not just unlucky, but, in random circumstances, one locked outside, the other inside, they each die because of some lazy jerk who either takes their time or refuses opening up, no matter how much the shadowed soon-to-be-victims scream. This is far more Body Count Horror than Fantasy Noir yet there's a combination of each: the dark-lit, shadowy, investigative element combined with a  Gothic and lurking, creature-feature template that's deeper than the norm, based on superstitious and forbidding black magic and taking itself extremely serious in the process: without, that is, being melodramatic or pretentious.
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