A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Fountainhead (King Vidor, 1949)

Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead
Howard Roark: Gary Cooper
Dominique Francon: Patricia Neal
Gail Wynand: Raymond Massey
Ellsworth M. Toohey: Robert Douglas
Peter Keating: Kent Smith
Henry Cameron: Henry Hull
Roger Enright: Ray Collins

Director: King Vidor
Screenplay: Ayn Rand
Based on a novel by Ayn Rand
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Art direction: Edward Carrere
Music: Max Steiner

Ayn Rand, proponent of a "philosophy" beloved of 20-year-old frat-boy business majors, is still very much with us, as the would-be Randian Übermensch currently inhabiting the White House too well demonstrates. So it's probably worth brushing up on the ideas that seem to captivate perpetual adolescents and sociopaths. Fortunately, you don't have to slog through her doorstop novels to get the gist: All you have to do is watch The Fountainhead, for which she wrote the screenplay. Its sociopath hero, Howard Roark, would be intolerable if he weren't played by Gary Cooper, taking on a role that is a curious inversion of the "common man" he played for Frank Capra in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) or the pawn of the Establishment in Meet John Doe (1941). Cooper's occasional eye twinkles or wry smiles help keep us from believing that he's really the kind of arrogant shit who says things like "I don't give or ask for help" or "The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing." As Dominique Francon, Patricia Neal does a lot of seething and surging about; it's not a good performance by a long shot, but it's watchable. But Raymond Massey manages to give an almost good performance, even when forced to deliver lines like: "What I want to find in our marriage will remain my own concern. I exact no promises and impose no obligations. Incidentally, since it is of no importance to you, I love you." Was ever woman in this humor wooed? The real saving grace of The Fountainhead, however, is its director, King Vidor, whose career began and flourished in the silent era, with classics like The Big Parade (1925) and The Crowd (1928), which honed his visual sense before he had to work with dialogue. If The Fountainhead had been a silent movie, not cluttered with Rand's dialogue and sermonizing, it might have been a classic itself, especially since it had a first-rate cinematographer in Robert Burks and a clever set designer in Edward Carrere. Max Steiner's overbearing score also helps distract us from the clanking and clattering of Rand's screenplay. The Fountainhead, in short, is a hoot, but a perversely fascinating one.

Watched on Filmstruck

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