8 March 1999 | otter
Okay historical melodrama about the tobacco industry.
Gary Cooper plays Brant Royle, a guy from the wrong side of the tracks who sets out to conquer the cigarette market at the turn of the century, whatever the cost. He's pitted against the Southern Aristocracy who've owned the market for generations. His only ally is Lauren Bacall, as the town "bad girl", but that doesn't stop him from pursuing the daughter of his worst enemy: Patricia Neal as the cool embodiment of aristocracy.
It's fairly heavy going through most of the film. There is some technical stuff about the tobacco business, but mostly it's about Royle's emotional conflicts: Love vs. social climbing; his conscience vs his business sense; what to do when achieving your dreams isn't enough; loyalty vs expedience; etc. It's all rather slow and humorless, not at all gripping.
Cooper is a good enough actor to keep you watching through all this even though his character is basically unlikeable, but Patricia Neal is the best reason to watch the film. The best moments of the film, the only ones that make it worth watching, are when she drops the icy mask of aristocratic poise and reveals her true character and motivations. That part it genuinely gripping. Bacall is likeable, but doesn't make an equal impact, and doesn't really seem to belong there. Perhaps it's because she looks terrible in the period wardrobe (19th century clothes were not designed for tall, skinny women).
It's also historically interesting to see a movie about the tobacco industry made before they found out about nicotine causing cancer. Nobody seems to think cigarettes are anything but a harmless indulgence and a cash cow.