Bright Leaf (1950): Curtiz’ Melodrama, Starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal and Lauren Bacall

Warner’s prolific director Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca,” “Mildred Pearce”) made Bright Leaf, an overbaked melodrama in 1950.

Bright Leaf
1950 brightleaf.jpg

Theatrical release poster

The film, whose title refers to the type of tobacco grown in North Carolina after the Civil War, is based on 1948 novel of the same name by Foster Fitz-Simons.

The romantic triangle tale has Gary Cooper at the center, torn between his attraction to two different women, played by Lauren Bacall and Patricia Neal, who steals every scene she is in.

Though driven out of his hometown years before by tobacco tycoon Major James Singleton for paying too much attention to the magnate’s daughter, Margaret (Patricia Neal) tenant-farmer Brant Royale returns.

Upon return, he meets John Barton, inventor of a cigarette-making machine, and Chris Malley, a medicine show man.  Impressed with the invention, Brant asks an old flame, Sonia Kovac (Lauren Bacall) for funds to produce it.

The new partnership, based on revolutionary discovery, defeats all of their competitors, including the Major.

Brant still loves Margaret Singleton, to the dismay of Sonia.  Meanwhile, Margaret, in order to save her father’s fortune, offers to marry Brant.  Major Singleton, appalled by the idea, commits suicide.

The feature depicts harshly a marriage that goes sour, a bond turns loveless.  When Brant learns that his vindictive wife has almost ruined him and that government officials are now after him with a monopoly suit, he asks her to leave.  Shortly thereafter, the mansion accidentally burns to the ground; Brant who witnesses the catastrophe, lets it happen.

In the last scene, he bids Sonia farewell after apologizing for his conduct (“I have never said I am sorry before”).  The ending is rather ambiguous, with hints planted that Brant would return to her.

Documentarian Ross McElwee has suggested that the plot is loosely based on the rivalry of tobacco tycoons Washington Duke and John Harvey McElwee, his great-grandfather.


Gary Cooper (Brant Royale)

Lauren Bacall (Sonia Kovac)

Patricia Neal (Margaret Jane)

Jack Carson (Chirs Malley)

Donald Crisp (Major Singleton)

Gladys George (Rose)

Elizabeth Patterson (Tabitha Jackson)

Jeff Corey (John Barton)

Taylor Holmes (Lawyer Calhoun)

Thurston Hall (Phillips)

James Griffith (Ellery)

Marietta Canty (Queenie)

William Walker (Simon)

Charles Meredith (Pendleton)

Leslie Kimmel (Hokins)

John Pickard (Devers)

Elzie Emanuel (Negro Boy)

James Adamson, Ira Buck Woods (Negro Peddlers)



Warner Bros. Picture.

Director: Michael Curtiz.

Producer: Henry Blanke.

Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall, from the novel by Foster Fitz-Simmons.

Photographer: Karl Freund.

Editor: Owen Marks.

Art Director: Stanley Fleisher.

Set Decorator: Ben Bone.

Musical Score: Victor Young.

Orchestrators: Sidney Cutner and Leo Shuken.

Dialogue Director: Norman Stuart.

Sound Recorder: Stanley Jones.

Costumers: Leah Rhodes and Marjorie Best.

Second Unit and Montage Director: David Gardner.

Makeup Artists: Perc Westmore, Ray Romero, and John Wallace.

Assistant Director: Sherry Shourds.

Hair Stylist: Myrl Stoltz.

Release date: July 2, 1950
Running time: 110 minutes