Bright Leaf is a 1950 film drama based on a 1949 novel by Foster Fitzsimmons. It stars Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal and Lauren Bacall, directed by Michael Curtiz.
The works derive their name from the type of tobacco grown in North Carolina after the American Civil War.
Loosely based on the rivalry of tobacco tycoons Washington Duke and George McElwee, Bright Leaf follows tenant farmer Brant Royle, who returns home after his family is driven from its farm by tobacco baron Major Singleton and becomes a rich and ruthless tyrant himself.
Royle and Singleton battle for their respective empires while Royle becomes obsessed with the Major's beautiful but devious daughter, Margaret. In the process he betrays Sonia, a business partner who loves him.
Thanks to the creation of a revolutionary cigarette manufacturing machine by inventor John Barton, the Royle tobacco business grows internationally by leaps and bounds. Singleton, who abhors cigarettes and has made his fortune with pipe tobacco and cigars, fails to heed the signs of progress. His debts mount until Royle buys up control of Singleton stock.
Rejecting an offer by Royle to save face, Singleton challenges his rival to a duel. Royle resists, but Singleton shoots the unarmed man. The public disgrace and loss of honor leads to his suicide.
Margaret agrees to marry Royle and they honeymoon abroad. But their disagreements grow in intensity. In time, Royle's business associate, Chris Malley, reveals that Margaret has been selling millions of dollars worth of stock in her husband's company to outside interests. She still resents the way Royle ruined her father.
In his arrogance, Royle turns against Sonia, then Barton, then finally Malley, his only allies. By the time he sees the error of his ways, it is too late.
The film, one of many epic melodramas produced by Hollywood at the time, was widely forgotten after its first theatrical release in 1950. Bright Leaf gained new attention in 2003, when it played prominently in the documentary Bright Leaves by filmmaker Ross McElwee, a descendant of the man whose life was reflected in both the novel and film.
Gary Cooper as Brant Royle
Lauren Bacall as Sonia Kovac
Patricia Neal as Margaret Jane Singleton
Jack Carson as Chris Malley
Donald Crisp as Major Singleton
Gladys George as Rose
Elizabeth Patterson as Tabitha Singleton
Jeff Corey as John Barton
Cleo Moore as Cousin Louise