Bright Leaf (film)

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This article is about Bright Leaf (film). For other uses of the term Bright Leaf, please see Bright Leaf (disambiguation).

In 1950 director Michael Curtiz released the feature film Bright Leaf, based on the 1948 novel of the same name, by Foster Fitzsimmons.[1] The film starred Patricia Neal, Lauren Bacall and Gary Cooper.[2][3][4]


In the film Cooper plays the scion of a family of Tobacco planters, who returns to his home town after inheriting the rump of his family's fortune, that has fallen into disrepair. Prior to leaving, when he was a young man, he had fallen for the daughter of his family's rival, played by Neal, and, in turn, Bacall's character had fallen for him.

Cooper recoup's the family fortune after partnering with an inventor, who has patented a machine that can roll cigarettes faster and cheaper than his rivals workers can roll them by hand, after taking a loan from Bacall's character. His restoration of his family fortune ruins his rival, who drops dead. He then marries Neal's character, even though she hates him. She betrays him, and ruins him. When he tries to return to Bacall, who had loved him, in the past, she tells him he had killed everything that made him lovable, during his struggle to reclaim his fortune, and that she no longer loves him.

The actors, Neal and Cooper, carried on a clandestine affair, during the filming, while portraying characters who were in a sexual relationship.


In 2003 director Ross McElwee released a personal documentary entitled Bright Leaves, in which he traces the family tradition that the book and film were inspired by a rivalry between his Great-grandfather and the leader of the wealthy Duke family of Tobacco planters, best known today for founding Duke University.[2][3][4]

McElwee's great-grandfather, John Harvey McElwee, and James (Buck) Buchanan Duke, both lived and worked in the region of Durham, North Carolina.[5][6][7] They were rivals. John Harvey McElwee did popularize the tobacco brand now known as "Bull Durham". But, during the course of the film, after interviewing Neal, and Fitzsimmons, he came to doubt that the fiction was based on the real life confrontation.


  1. Bosley Crowther. THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; 'Bright Leaf,' With Gary Cooper as Tobacco Magnate, New Bill at Strand Theatre, New York Times, 1950-06-17, p. L7. Retrieved on 2022-08-30.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Stephen Holden. FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; Tapestry of a Family and Its Home State, New York Times, 2003-10-11, p. B16. Retrieved on 2022-08-30. “McElwee family lore has it that the movie, directed by Michael Curtiz and adapted from a novel by Foster Fitz-Simons, is the story of his great-grandfather. And it prompts Mr. McElwee to embark on an eccentric quest to document the connection. He obsessively reruns the movie and interviews a film scholar, Vlada Petric, along with Ms. Neal and the original novelist's widow.”
  3. 3.0 3.1 James Ryerson. FILM; Cigarettes, Gary Cooper And Me, New York Times, 2004-08-22. Retrieved on 2022-08-30. “The film is set in motion when Mr. McElwee learns of the existence of a 1950 Hollywood melodrama called Bright Leaf, starring Gary Cooper, Lauren Bacall and Patricia Neal, about a rivalry between two tobacco growers in post-Civil War North Carolina. At the suggestion of a cousin, Mr. McElwee becomes convinced that the character played by Cooper is based on his great-grandfather, John Harvey McElwee, a North Carolina tobacco tycoon who was ruined and run out of the business by his nemesis, James Buchanan Duke (whose legacy would encompass both the American Tobacco Company and Duke University.)”
  4. 4.0 4.1 FILM REVIEW; Romance of Tobacco Brought to Life, New York Times, 2004-08-25, p. E4. Retrieved on 2022-08-30. “His great-grandfather was a tobacco king who created the Bull Durham brand, then lost his fortune to a rival clan, the Dukes, who became North Carolina royalty. Through a cousin who collects vintage films and movie memorabilia, he becomes fixated on a 1950 black-and-white melodrama, Bright Leaf, about the tobacco wars of the late 19th century, starring Gary Cooper, Lauren Bacall and Patricia Neal.”
  5. Richard Corliss. That Old Feeling: The Great American Smoke, Time magazine, 2003-11-22. Retrieved on 2022-08-31. “According to family legend, Ross' great-grandfather John Harvey McElwee had worked on such a process, created the Bull Durham brand and made a bundle, then lost it when his rival John Buchanan (Buck) Duke stole the Bull Durham recipe. Duke's fortune eventually rose into the billions; his daughter Doris was for a time the world's richest woman. The McElwees became convinced that the story of their ancestor's rise, and betrayal by Duke, was encapsulated in 'Bright Leaf' — that the film was, as Ross put it, 'a home movie reenacted by Hollywood stars.'mirror
  6. Ty Burr. `Bright Leaves' explores burning questions, Boston Globe, 2004-09-24. Retrieved on 2022-08-31. “Neal and Cooper starred in 'Bright Leaf,' a 1950 Hollywood melodrama set in the tobacco fields and mansions of the post-Civil War era and based, McElwee comes to believe, on the bare bones of his great-grandfather's life. John Harvey McElwee was an ambitious planter who developed a tobacco blend he called "Durham Bull," a formula he spent his life and fortune in court trying to prove had been stolen and sold as "Bull Durham" by rival James B. Duke.” mirror
  7. Carla Meyer. Tobacco grower descendant explores the family industry McElwee's film tackles tobacco, San Francisco Chronicle, 2004-10-15. Retrieved on 2022-08-31. “McElwee's journey in "Bright Leaves" starts with a visit to the North Carolina home of his film-buff cousin. Amid the cousin's collection of stills and reels is a 1950 film called 'Bright Leaf' starring Gary Cooper. He informs McElwee that the historical melodrama is based on the story of their great-grandfather, John Harvey McElwee, whose business was ruined by tobacco tycoon James Buchanan Duke.”