Release Date(s)1943 (July 30, 2019)
Studio(s)RKO Radio Pictures/Warner Bros (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
After the release of Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, director Jacques Tourneur and producer Val Lewton put together The Leopard Man, the often underappreciated gem amongst their collaborations together. Based upon the novel Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich, the story takes place in a small New Mexican town where competing night club performers Kiki (Jean Walker) and Clo-Clo (Margo) are rattled after a publicity stunt, perpetrated by Kiki’s fiancée Jerry (Dennis O’Keefe), sets a leopard loose in the town. Killings begin to occur, but as the police search for the animal, Jerry becomes convinced that a deranged man may be the culprit instead.
There are many unusual things about The Leopard Man, chief among them its structure. The narrative strays from its main characters to seemingly unimportant characters who ultimately meet a grisly fate. Their deaths are never shown, but they’re no less impactful, particularly the first. With a killer not far behind, a young girl pounds on the door of her home—only to be slaughtered as her blood drains out beneath the doorway. It’s quite brutal, and all without seeing it happen. Though clearly shot on a soundstage, scenes of building the suspense before the murders take place are just as effective. A woman is trapped behind the tall walls of a cemetery, while another walks beneath a bridge as a train passes overhead; both offering their fair share of simple, restrained moments of terror, as well as visual prowess.
It’s also interesting that many of the film’s main characters aren’t all that likable initially. Indeed, you begin to wonder why you would care about selfish, self-serving people in the first place. However, as the story continues, they gain their humanity and you actually come to admire them, even if they are guilty of setting the film’s monstrous events in motion. It could be part of the reason why The Leopard Man wasn’t as well regarded as other Lewton productions, even by Lewton himself. It’s definitely a film that doesn’t follow the traditional storytelling techniques of the era, and one might argue that it’s a prototype for the slasher and giallo films that would come many years later. Even Alfred Hitchcock owes a bit of debt to it.
The Leopard Man comes to Blu-ray for the first time from Scream Factory. According to the inner sleeve, “This new high definition transfer was created in 4K resolution at Warner Bros Motion Picture Imaging on the Lasergraphics Director scanner form the original camera negative.” It’s a lovely black-and-white presentation with excellent grayscale, deep blacks, and amazing detail in shadowy environments. It’s also stable and mostly clean, aside from speckling and minor wear and tear that has clearly been attenuated without losing detail. Everything appears sharp and precise, outclassing every previous home video release.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Though limited by its single channel source, the various elements are presented with precision. Dialogue exchanges are clear and discernable while sound effects—including the unmistakable sound of Clo-Clo’s castanets—have definite impact. The score is sparse but is well prioritized, and the quieter moments, of which there are many, reveal a lack of leftover damage. Only a mild hiss is present, as to be expected.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Constantine Nasr
- Audio Commentary with William Friedkin
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:05)
- Still Gallery (HD – 90 in all – 8:36)
Constantine Nasr’s commentary is excellent and well-researched. He discusses the film’s pre-production history, the writing of the film’s screenplay, and the careers of all of the main cast and crew. He also contextualizes the film with regard to other Val Lewton productions and reads a personal letter from Lewton to his mother about his work at RKO. William Friedkin, a fan of the film, walks us through it scene by scene, praising it for its many strong points in a very entertaining manner. The still gallery features 90 images of promotional photos, publicity shots, a conceptual drawing, posters, lobby cards, promotional materials, a newspaper clipping, and a page from an RKO exhibitor’s booklet.
Fans of Val Lewton’s output with RKO have much to appreciate with Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of The Leopard Man. With an excellent A/V presentation and two fantastic audio commentaries to accompany it, this 66-minute underdog is a home run. Highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons