The Fountainhead (1949)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

Writing a review of Ayn Randís The Fountainhead is a daunting task. Iíll start with a disclaimer, I like the movie and have been a major fan of the book since I was a teenager. Randís writing was a major influence on me when I was a young man. Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, We The Living and especially Anthem have been among my favorites for a long time.

Ms. Rand was heavily involved in the production of this film. She wrote the screenplay and had a hand in the casting. Rand was no stranger to Hollywood having been involved in the film industry since shortly after her arrival in the USA from Russia. Love Letters, one of her earlier screenwriting efforts, can occasionally be seen on some TV channels. I recommend it as an enjoyable and perceptive character study.

Many people have criticized The Fountainhead movie as not measuring up to the book. Others have claimed the casting is all wrong. In response, what two hour movie has ever captured a 700+ page book? On the filmís casting, as a major fan of Barbara Stanwyck, I would probably have enjoyed seeing her opposite Gary Cooper yet again; but Iíve no complaints with the casting choices made, given that the year of release was 1949. Howard Roark (Gary Cooper), Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal), Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey), Peter Keating (Kent Smith) and Ellsworth Toohey (Robert Douglas) were all very well cast, as were the minor characters who survived into the screenplay.

For those of you who may not know the story line, The Fountainhead is based on the struggle of Howard Roark to pursue his happiness as a modern architect against the forces of compromise and complacency in mid-20th century America. It is a story of rugged individualism against the forces of the status quo and collectivism. Neither the book nor the movie pulls any punches in their explicit advocacy of individualism or indictment of collectivism.

The movie begins with scenes of Roark being expelled from architectural school for following his own way. From there Roark seeks a job with Henry Cameron (Henry Hull), a forerunner in the practice of the modern architectural style. Roark gets the job and time passes, as does Henry Cameron, leaving Roark to pursue his goals on his own. Howardís ďfriendĒ Peter Keating comes to visit Roark as he is burning Cameronís possessions, by his last request. Roark is in a bad financial condition and Peter offers him some money, but Roark refuses.

Roark has a prospect to build a new bank, but when he is asked in the final interview before contract signing to compromise the look of the building, he refuses and holds to his own architectural standards. Ellsworth Toohey has set-up Roark for this temptation. Toohey next recommends Peter Keating to the man behind the project, Gail Wynand. Wynand also consults his newspaperís other architectural expert Dominique Francon. Eventually, Keating gets the contract. Roark chooses to temporarily work in a quarry instead of giving up his principles. At this low point in his career he meets Dominique and the fireworks begin. 

The Fountainhead may not be for everyone, but if you favor rugged individualism it may satisfy your requirements for a movie like very little else ever will.

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