26 August 2010 | blanche-2
Big southern drama that falls flat
"Bright Leaf" is a 1950 Warner Brothers southern extravaganza starring Gary Cooper, Lauren Bacall, Patricia Neal, and Jack Carson.
Gary Cooper is Brant Royle, who in 1894 returns to his southern town of Kingsmont, where his family was driven out of the tobacco market by Major Singleton (Donald Crisp). Royle has returned to get his revenge and reinstate the family name in the area. There are two women in his life: a madam, Sonia (Lauren Bacall) and Singleton's beautiful daughter Margaret (Patricia Neal).
With the help of Sonia, Royle buys into a machine that actually rolls cigarettes, which drives down the cost of producing them. He eventually takes over nearly the entire tobacco industry. But Royle won't be happy until he has brought Major Singleton to his knees and marries Margaret. But in his determination to get what he wants, he loses even more.
The moral of "Bright Leaf" is two-fold: Beware of what you want; and big talent won't really help a mediocre movie. The novel was probably inspired by "Gone with the Wind," but the quality of the story - in the film, at least - doesn't come close. There are two likable characters - Sonia and Carson's role of Chris. The rest of the main characters are odious.
Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper were in the midst of their passionate affair, but the relationship between the characters they play is pretty frosty. Given their romance, perhaps the Bacall role would have been better for Neal. Bacall took this job to finish off her contract with Warners. She's good, but her character isn't really fleshed out. Cooper is a great presence, but he has a difficult job because the character is not sympathetic. Also, I suspect that at age 50, the character was supposed to be younger. Neal is beautiful, and her performance has some real bite.
All in all, not up to the talents on screen.