The Fountainhead (1949)

Directed by King Vidor

An uncompromising, visionary architect struggles to maintain his integrity and individualism despite personal, professional and economic pressures to conform to popular standards.

Oil and Water

25 May 2011 | by youbigbluemonkey (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I fear that giving Ayn Rand full control over what was said on screen turned what might have been an interesting film into nothing more than an extension of her book. Now that might sound a good thing, but film and book are two different media that rarely sit comfortably with one another. Strangely it is this refusal to compromise, an important point in the book, that is this films biggest flaw.

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While the acting is fine, aside from Coopers and Neal’s in my opinion, the dialogue is stilted and stands out of place on screen, almost to the point of preaching rather than aiding the development of the story.

This might be simply a sign of the times, after all this was made in 1948, but this film stands out in my mind as perhaps the pinnacle of ‘straight from the book to film’ type of writing.

The film isn’t subtle by any means, its point is pushed down your throat time and time again, the price of having your writer push an agenda.

It seems like every other line is a speech rather than a genuine conversation, with constant swings back and forth from over the top melodrama to meaningless contrite phrases.

As a book, without the aid of background music and the delivery of a host of different actors I’m sure this works fine, but as a film it just becomes noise with all meaning lost.

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One of the weirdest movies ever produced in the 1940s

Author: El Cine from Southeastern Massachusetts
9 May 2001

Not too many films can grab your attention with an atypical discussion of individualism, inspire you with a character’s strength of will, disturb you with that same character’s cold attitude towards humanity, and make you laugh at the script’s stiffness and awkwardness at the same time. I don’t really know how to approach my commentary on this strange film, so I will just list several of my observations.

— I first learned of this film while watching a documentary on AMC about screenwriters’ experiences in Hollywood. This film was chosen by the documentary as an example of what a screenplay shouldn’t be! Indeed, the dialogue is melodramatic and positively stilted, since it is delivered by characters that exist primarily as vessels of philosophical thought, not real people that interact with each other. Does Dominique have any favorite hobbies, books, or radio programs? Or does she just sit around all day fretting about the inanity of the mindless masses, only taking a break now and then to throw a valuable statue out her window and onto some poor pedestrian’s head because, as she says, she “loves” the statue? Gary Cooper even stuttered a lot of his lines like a robot, especially in that long-winded courtroom “climax”. By the way, Cooper’s character never seemed to be having fun except when he was getting fondled by Dominique or watching her trip and nearly kill herself while trying to run away from him.

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Raymond Massey

— At times, the film came close to acting as a successful examination of themes like resisting convention and finding one’s internal independence and freedom, a la Chopin’s “The Awakening.” There are some provocative quotes that make good points on these issues. But the heavy dose of Randian anti-altruism that the script administers adds a pallor of mean-spiritedness and unlikeability to the characters and the screenwriter’s points.

— Rand apparently had a pessimistic view of humanity that was morbid and spiteful in the extreme. Are we to believe that all but a few people comprise an incitable, easy-manipulated, stupid mob of people? The scene where Wynand finds himself opposed by all 15 of his board members, all of whom are apparently spineless ‘fraidy cats, typifies the exaggerated “It’s everybody against one of me!” mentality that pervades the main characters’ lives.

— The direction was much better than I anticipated. And Robert Burks scored big with his cinematography. The modern black-and-white scenes must have provided him with lots of opportunities.

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— Zaniest quote (not word for word): Dominique is taken aback at how Gail Wynand bribed Peter Keating to break off his engagement with her. Wynand: Oh, people do this sort of thing all the time. They just don’t talk about it.

— Max Steiner’s score is like Bernard Herrmann’s score for “Marnie” — it is pretty good and exciting to listen to on an album, but it is too emotional and high-strung for the screen. Oh, did anyone else notice how the piano player at the Enright Building’s housewarming party was playing the movie’s theme song?

— Not enough attention was paid to the changes that the Gail Wynand character experienced. He went from strong amoral capitalist to redeemed supporter of the little guy to weak amoral capitalist in mere scene-changes!

— How could Ellsworth Toohey, who is just a writer for a newspaper, manage to essentially take over the entire newspaper staff? How come Toohey never smiles or drops his scowl? And does he take some pride from the fact that he looks like and dresses like an evil John Quincy Adams with a mustache? Also, how does he have a hand in so many architecture projects? He’s just a critic! Are we to believe that a cackling Roger Ebert hangs around the film studios in Hollywood and wields sinister influence over the producers and the films that they make?

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Too unique to dismiss

Gary Cooper is much too mature for the role of the idealistic architect, but everyone else in the cast is fine. Cooper and Patricia Neal were supposedly involved in a passionate off-camera romance at the time, and some fans of this movie insist they can detect the sparks on-screen, too. I don’t, but then I find Cooper such a bore as an actor that it’s hard to tell if he’s breathing, let alone excited. His performance here almost ruins what could have been a brilliant adaptation of Ayn Rand’s ambitious novel. Howard Roark, the architect who refuses to conform to another man’s ideals (or lack of them), does not strike me as an “Aw’ shucks” kind of guy, but that’s pretty much the way Cooper plays him. Roark will build anything–a public housing project, a townhouse, even a gas station–as long as it’s built according to his vision.

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He will not compromise. Cooper just doesn’t possess the fire that this character requires. When he becomes impassioned (“A man who works for the sake of others is a slave”), you can almost see the cue cards reflecting in his eyes. Certainly, he doesn’t feel Rand’s words in his gut. On the plus side, King Vidor’s visual style is imaginative, and despite a lot of pompous sermonizing and Cooper’s miscasting, this is a worthwhile film simply because there are so few Hollywood productions that emphasize ideas and a man’s philosophy. In a curious way, it brings to mind “Network,” and other Paddy Chayefsky films.

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The Egohead

3/10
Author: (j.lacerra@yahoo.com) from Philadelphia
27 June 2009
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It is hard to imagine that a movie starring Gary Cooper, Pat Neal, and Raymond Massey could be this bad. But, somehow King Vidor and Ayn Rand achieve this dubious distinction with The Fountainhead. From its dreadful dialog to its overblown set decoration to its overwrought score, this picture is a turkey.

The story of Howard Roark, architect, is presented showing a man with an ego the size of his largest building. He is not a pleasant or likable character. He is in a weird romance with the very strange Domenique, played by Neal as an irritating fruitcake of a female with a irresolvable inner conflict that the audience surely could not relate to, then or now. The chemistry between Cooper’s character and Neal’s is not just nonexistent, it is repellent. Massey does a little better as a powerful man who eventually is shown the limits of that power.

We are told of Roark’s great talent, but are shown samples of his work that are wretched unbalanced monoliths, ludicrous while at the same time asking us to agree that they are masterpieces. We are told that the stuffy and self-important architectural critic of a newspaper has an ardent following among the common people, a very long stretch indeed.

Gary Cooper was sorely miscast in a role of a much younger man, a man of iron will and granite ego. The role might have been suited to a young Charlton Heston or Gregory Peck. Cooper walks through the role, that he clearly does not understand or sympathize with, like a zombie. His speech at the courtroom scene is delivered with all the aplomb and effervescence of a flat beer.

In every scene, the dialog is stilted and unrealistic; no one speaks like that, nor did they ever. In every interior scene the set is a huge spartan room with unreal spatial expanses.

And, unfortunately, the tale itself is boring and overwrought. It fails to redeem itself at any point. I can’t recommend this overcooked turkey for viewing under any circumstances.

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The best they could do with a difficult book

9/10
Author: preppy-3 from United States
3 October 2006

Movie based on Ayn Rand’s book. Idealistic architect Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) won’t compromise his designs for society. He also falls for beautiful Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal).

Now the original novel is brilliant…but over 1,000 pages and quite dense. The studio (wisely) got Rand to write the screenplay for this–I suspect a studio writer would have ruined it. She manages to cut down the book and get her message across perfectly. The movie is also well-directed–full of incredible sets and designs. It has a pounding lush score and some truly hysterical sexual imagery involving Cooper and Neal.

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The acting though is another story. Neal is fantastic–the perfect choice for Dominique–sexy, smart and strong. Raymond Massey is also good as Gail Wynand. Unfortunately Gary Cooper is terrible as Roark. He was hand-picked by Rand to play the role–but I think she picked him because she was attracted to him. He’s wooden all through the movie and his unsure line readings are pretty painful. (Purportedly he didn’t understand the script–it shows). Still, the movie survives despite him. I can truthfully only give it a 9–with a better actor I might give this a 10.

Be warned–this is not an easy movie. It’s all talk, runs almost 2 hours and deals with idealism and values. Some people will be bored silly by this but I find it fascinating. Recommended.

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