The Leopard Man (1943) directed by Jacques Tourneur
A publicity stunt for a night club performer goes horribly awry! Spanish dancer with castanets Clo-Clo (Margo) has her act interrupted by rival Kiki (Jean Brooks) when she brings in a leopard on a leash. The audience is on edge and Clo-Clo decides to scare the cat by clicking her castanets at it. The beast escapes into the small New Mexico town, but not before clawing a waiter. Panic starts to spread as the cat-hunt starts. Other locals are unaware, like Teresa Delgado, who is sent out to buy cornmeal. The local shop is closed so she has to cross town. On her way back, she crosses paths with the leopard and is chased home, dying on her own doorstep. Kiki's publicist and boyfriend Jerry (Dennis O'Keefe--yeah, he's the guy who brought the leopard into the picture) feels guilty and reluctantly helps out in the search, especially since he owes $225 to the cat's owner. Things go from bad to worse when another young woman is killed and Jerry starts to suspect that the killer may be human.
The movie is full of pros and cons. The visual style is excellent, with many scenes of stalking and discussions of fate, cat nature, and personal culpability. The "less is more" style of Val Lewton's productions is used to full effect. Teresa's death happens on the other side of a door with only her screams and other sound effects hinting at what's happening...until the blood comes under the door. On the other hand, the plot almost literally wanders around as new characters are introduced when another character walks by their window. New sets of people show up and viewers are left wondering what they have to do with the story. While these shifts make for intriguing moments, they also rob the main characters of time for character development and make the narrative choppy. The film also hints at supernatural elements but then abandons that motif at the end for a straightforward psychological drama.