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Film / The Leopard Man

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The Leopard Man is a 1943 horror/film noir produced by Val Lewton, adapted from the novel Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich. It's the last of Lewton's collaborations with director Jacques Tourneur.

In a New Mexico tourist-trap town, two nightclub performers, Kiki (Jean Brooks) and Clo-Clo (Margo) have a fierce rivalry. Kiki's boyfriend/manager, Jerry (Dennis O'Keefe), rents a leopard from Charlie-How-Come (Abner Biberman) so she can upstage Clo-Clo's dance. Unfortunately, Clo-Clo scares the leopard away with her castinettes, and it gets away, crushing a waiter's hand in the process.

Later that night, it kills a little girl. Soon after that, another girl is killed when she goes to meet her boyfriend in the cemetery. The leopard again is blamed, but while Charlie acknowledges that his cat was responsible for the first death, he has doubts about the second one and calls it murder. He and Jerry go see Dr. Galbraith of the Natural History Museum, and Galbraith puts it in Charlie's head that he might have committed the murder while he was drunk.Could he really be the killer?

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Tropes:

  • Adapted Out: The film omits an American tourist who is killed after Clo-Clo, as well as her friend, who helps Jerry look for the killer.
  • Adult Fear: Theresa is mauled to death by a leopard when her mother sends her to the store after dark. The second girl is murdered while waiting to meet her boyfriend.
  • Adults Are Useless: Theresa's mother sends her daughter to the store, despite the leopard having been seen in the neighborhood.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Jerry becomes suspicious that the recent deaths blamed on an escaped leopard he was renting are being committed by a human and gradually begins exploring angles.
    Jerry: I'm not much of a detective, I don't even know how to start. All I know is I wanna do something about all of this.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Cousin Felipe.
  • Beast Master: Charlie owns the leopard and is able to control it.
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  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Mild-mannered Dr. Galbraith is a serial killer who is sexually aroused by murder.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Galbraith is the killer.
  • Cat Scare: With a train, just before the real cat makes his appearance...
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jerry, Kiki and Clo-Clo.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The opening scene follows Clo-Clo, but she's neither the main character nor the first victim.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Both a Secondary Character Title based on Charlie How-Come's showman nickname and an Antagonist Title deacribing the M.O. of the killer.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The leopard is killed in the woods shortly after Theresa's death, which is only revealed much later.
  • Foil: Rival dancers Kiki and Flo-Clo. Kiki is an emotionally reserved, financially successful Caucasian woman from out of town and needs publicity stunts to stand out. Clo-Clo is a local Mexican woman who is hard up for money but depends on her talent and has a sunnier disposition.
  • Gold Digger: Clo-Clo goes after older rich men (asking, "for what was I born, if not for money?"), but she's honest about her motives with men, hopes to marry her poorer boyfriend someday, and tries to provide for her mother and siblings.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold:
    • Jerry puts on a show of being unaffected by the escape of the leopard he rented and the death of its first victim. However, he wants to help pay for the dead girl's funeral and accompanies the hunting party seeking the leopard. He soon admits that he is torn up with guilt and concern but has always worked to hide such feelings.
    Jerry: I learned [growing up] it didn't pay to let anybody know how you feel or really think.
    • Jerry's girlfriend Kiki is similarly more sentimental than she acts. She tells Jerry not to be "soft" and give Teresa's family money for their funeral expenses immediately after secretly doing so herself.
    Kiki: Maybe I'm tired of pretending that nothing bothers me. That all I care about is myself.
  • Informed Attribute: Kiki is said to be a club dancer, but the first time she's about to be performed, she's interrupted by the leopard escaping. The second time, the scene cuts away before her act starts.
  • Lack of Empathy: Averted with Jerry and Kiki. Both publicly keep a stiff upper lip in response to the deaths but then donate money to the poorer family.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Theresa's screams of terror coming from the other side of a bolted door, followed by sounds of attack. Her mother and brother struggle to unbolt the door and then there is silence. Then blood starts to flow under the door.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Clo-Clo is only called by her real name, Gabriella, once in the entire movie, when her mother asks why she's leaving in the middle of the night.
  • Police Are Useless: The police chief ignores the evidence Jerry gives him that suggests the killer wasn't a leopard, explaining that his job is to "protect the taxpayer's money."
  • The Pollyanna: Clo-Clo is constantly smiling and making pleasant conversation with people. The only exceptions are when she's worried for her life, reflective about the dead Teresa, or feuding with Kiki.
  • Posse: The sheriff organizes a posse to hunt down the escaped leopard.
  • Publicity Stunt: A public relations man rents a black leopard to promote his girlfriend Kiki's nightclub act. However, a rival performer scares the leopard and it escapes.
  • Serial Killer: Dr. Galbraith is a serial killer who is sexually aroused by murder, and who makes his murders look like the work of an animal.
  • Small Town Boredom: Eloise, the cigarette girl, who longs to work in a big city like Chicago.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: The killer claims that even after being aroused by the body of the leopard's victim and walking around with the claws from the leopard he'd secretly killed, he didn't set out to kill Consuela. Supposedly, he even meant to help her get out of the cemetery after she was locked in before succumbing to his bloodlust as he approached her.
  • This Bear Was Framed: Though the leopard does kill at least one person.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Jerry renting the leopard as a gift for Kiki, Kiki taking it to the nightclub to upstage Clo-Clo, and Clo-Clo frightening the leopard into running away all indirectly contribute to four deaths.
  • Uptown Girl: Consuela sneaks out to meet her poorer boyfriend.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: A frightened Charlie has himself locked in jail for the night after Galbraith points out that as someone who has access to leopard claws and experiences blackouts from drinking, he could be the killer. Charlie is innocent, Galbraith is Gaslighting him.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: A recurring theme.
    • Clo-Clo keeps drawing the ace of spades when her fortune is told and is eventually murdered.
      • Galbraith tells Jerry and Kiki that people are as powerless when it comes to their fate as the ball held aloft by the fountain at the nightclub.

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