One of the finest films of Jacques Tourneur. The Leopard Man is even more masterful than Cat People: the shadowy cinematography, the combination of close-ups and long/subjective/high-angle shots create a unique dreamlike atmosphere, which surely inspired Dario Argento (Inferno). But the real beauty of the film is the heterogeneous soundtrack, which combines diegetic sounds and extra-diegetic music. Masterpiece.
All atmosphere and hardly a coherent story... The story surrounding the first death plays like a dark fairytale and is a 7 minute masterpiece in itself! (The girl, the cruel mother, the absent father, the nightly errand, the lazy shopkeeper, the dark passage etc. etc.)
Tourneur's shadow compositions, his use of sounds and silences, his killer... It's the first time there truly was horror on screen. A monster willing to kill for killing-sake, without a reason besides pleasure. It's what Carpenter would do in Halloween; an evil we cannot explain that is out there and can find us at any time. No redemption, only a nightmare traversing the desert with the horror of humanity exposed.
Quite aside from the absolutely crackling atmosphere so lovely to see a film deal with transference in 1943! Is there any other American director who used a silent soundtrack and figuration in vast empty spaces so effectively in the '40s? The basic proposition of a Lewton film is this - a woman walks 'tween shadow and light.
Tourneur reduced the film to it's necessary resources. The story is non-existent and characters enter the picture as fast as they leave it. The only connection between them is sheer chance. The film is a pure exercise in atmosphere and a clear presentation of the mechanisms and the philosophy of the horrorfilm.. They walk, they look back and through the dark and unknown, fearing what may lurk in it, unable to escape.
I've only recently discovered Tourneur, thanks to his many admirers on Mubi. So far I've seen 5 of his films, and all 5 receive 5 stars, 'The Leopard Man' being no exception. Dude has been slept on in the 'greatest directors' discussion for too long. Invest in his work, without hesitation.