Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||Henry Blanke|
|Screenplay by||Ranald MacDougall|
|Based on||Bright Leaf|
by Foster FitzSimons
|Music by||Victor Young|
|Edited by||Owen Marks|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
It is based on a 1948 novel of the same name by Foster Fitz-Simons. The title comes from the type of tobacco grown in North Carolina after the American Civil War. According to Bright Leaves, a 2003 documentary film by Ross McElwee, the plot is loosely based on the rivalry of tobacco tycoons Washington Duke and John Harvey McElwee, the filmmaker's great-grandfather.
Brant Royle (Gary Cooper) returns to his hometown, (fictional) Kingsmont, North Carolina, to settle his uncle's estate. Many years before, powerful tobacco magnate and cigar-manufacturer Major Singleton (Donald Crisp) drove Brant and his father (now dead) out of town. Singleton foreclosed on the Royles because they grew the best bright leaf tobacco and because young Brant dared to fall in love with his daughter, Margaret (Patricia Neal).
When Royle stops a runaway carriage driven by Margaret, she gives him a cool reception. His ardor remains undiminished. Bored and eager for excitement, she deliberately incites her father to confront Royle at the hotel. Inventor John Barton (Jeff Corey) needing financing for his revolutionary cigarette-rolling machine, sees the incident and approaches Royle. (Singleton dismissed the idea.) Royle has $40, a run-down cigarette factory—and a friend.
Brant was Sonia Kovac's (Lauren Bacall) first love. Long ago, he gave her his father's chiming pocket watch. Once a cigarette girl, Sonia has prospered by turning her late mother's house into a high-class bordello. Royle persuades her to invest in the machine, making her a partner. “I don't kiss partners,” Sonia says. Brant hires medicine showman Chris Malley (Jack Carson) after he comes up with a perfect slogan: “The Royle Cigarette Company: Fit for a King.” Malley eventually becomes Royle's second in command.
Barton's invention produces cigarettes at a fraction of the cost of hand rolling, and Royle's company grows by leaps and bounds. “Sick of being treated like a lady” and aroused by the danger, Margaret leads Brant on. Brant comes hours late to Sonia's birthday party and tells her his plans, blind to the fact that she loves him. She goes to Europe.
One by one, Royle takes over the big businesses, until only Singleton is left. Finally, he shows the Major that he has acquired his shares and his debts. Royle offers to give them back ... as a wedding present. Margaret tells Singleton that she will marry Royle, even though she does not love him, in order to save the family interests. He is appalled at her cold-blooded practicality and, blaming Royle, challenges the upstart to a duel in the hotel bar. Royle refuses, even when Singleton threatens to shoot him in cold blood: That would violate Singleton's code of honor. Singleton does shoot, wounding the unarmed man slightly. Disgraced, he commits suicide.
Singleton's estate is worthless. Even Singleton House is mortgaged. Margaret refuses to sell the house: She will find a way. Royle comes to see her, to say that whatever hatred there was has gone with her father. She warns him to stay away from her. He replies that with him, she can have everything. They kiss.
Royle buys out Barton, who goes to Detroit and the fledgling automobile business. Sonia returns from Europe, to a house beautifully refurbished by Malley, who proposes. Sonia believes Brant and Margaret are through, now that the Major is dead. Malley shows her the betrothal announcement.
Margaret and Brant marry. Sonia's wedding gift is the pocketwatch. The Royles go abroad for a year. When they return, the business is in trouble and so is the marriage. Margaret refuses to share Royle's bed. Headlines read “Attorney General to Smash Royle Inc.” over monopoly charges. Spending lavishly, Margaret has sold all the stock that Royle gave her. Malley says she has taken $2 million out of the company. Royle and Malley, who knew that Barton was behind the monopoly charges, learn that Margaret has been feeding Barton information. Brant confronts Margaret, who tells him she has schemed and planned to destroy him since the day her father was buried. Now she wants a divorce. Until the day he dies, Brant will remember the Singletons. She leaves; he sets the house on fire accidentally. He stops the fire brigade, crying “Let it burn!”
At 4 a.m. on New Year's Day, 1900, Brant comes to Sonia to say goodbye and to apologize. She says he has killed the Brant Royle she loved. As to the business, he says Malley will handle it; Royle tobacco is so big now, it doesn't need him. Riding out of town, he pauses to listen to his father's watch.
- Gary Cooper as Brant Royle
- Lauren Bacall as Sonia Kovac
- Patricia Neal as Margaret Jane Singleton
- Jack Carson as Chris Malley, aka "Dr Monaco"
- Donald Crisp as Major Singleton
- Gladys George as Rose, one of Sonia's prostitutes
- Elizabeth Patterson as Tabitha Singleton, Margaret's older relation and companion
- Jeff Corey as John Barton
- Taylor Holmes as Lawyer Calhoun
- Thurston Hall as Phillips, a tobacco grower
According to Warner Bros records the film earned $1,702,000 domestically and $744,000 foreign.
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.
- Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 30 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
- "Top Grosses of 1950". Variety. January 3, 1951. p. 58.
- Variety film review; May 24, 1950, page 6.
- Harrison's Reports film review; May 27, 1950, page 83.
- Before the invention of machines to do the job, cigars and cigarettes were manufactured by hand, usually by women and girl children, called “cigarette girls.” The title character in the opera Carmen works in such a factory. In the 1920s, in Europe and the United States, ”cigarette girl” came to refer to a woman working in a speakeasy or nightclub who sold tobacco products, candy and other items from a large tray supported by a strap around her neck.
- It is not clear whether the marriage was ever consummated. Royle rips up a negligee that Margaret bought on their honeymoon in Paris, calling it a lie, but Margaret asks for a divorce, not an annulment.
- Leiter, Andrew B. (28 July 2011). Southerners on Film: Essays on Hollywood Portrayals Since the 1970s. McFarland. pp. 142–144. ISBN 978-0-7864-8702-8. Retrieved 21 January 2015.