Movie Review: The Fountainhead (1949)

Ayn Rand’s sui generis movie still stirs the heart of passionate individualists

FountainheadIf I had to describe the A-list movie production of The Fountainhead in one word that word would be ‘unbelievable:’ it is literally beyond comprehension that such a stark silver screen portrayal of important ideas—with world class acting, directing, score, production design, costumes, and of course writing—could ever be made… much less a movie about the epochal conflict between the individual and the collective (and the parallel ethical conflict between reason-based egoism and faith-based altruism). The second word I would use is ‘moving.’

Lately, The Fountainhead is a DVD I’ve been watching with regularity, simply to recharge my emotional batteries and reaffirm my sense of life. As the astute reader knows, we live in a world where the collectivists of the Toxocracy are hammering the individualists right and left… trying to close in for the kill. [I believe the individualists—full humans—will win, however, and relatively soon, due to a powerful cosmic jujitsu maneuver that I’m happy to be a part of. Ref. esp. Thrive. More on that in my novel soon to be released, The Truman Prophecy.]

And elsewhere, of course: 2016 is the Year of Conscious Evolution, which necessitates psychological independence, which necessitates the full flowering of the individual human conceptual faculty, which necessitates the wholesale adherence of humanity to the nonaggression principle. No this isn’t a dream, it’s real and it’s going to happen. Because of bold creative acts of people like Ayn Rand and those who live by her ideals—not as mere abstractions, but as real people struggling to create a benevolent world that makes sense.

The Movie

The Fountainhead, the book, was published in 1943, a couple of years before the end of WWII. Through the 1930s around the world, and especially among the Western intellectual elites, collectivism in the form of socialism and state socialism—notably the Soviet Union—was held in increasingly high regard. Many Americans felt that US president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s socialistic New Deal was what liberated them from the misery of the (capitalism-caused) Great Depression… plus he was such a good, caring man, with his handicap and all, that everyone loved him without reservation.  .AND. he boldly led us to victory in war; that cuddly superpower ally, the Soviet Union, then helped to finish the task of defeating the Nazis.

In other words, people had become conditioned—with the intellectuals in tow—to accept the virtues of political collectivism: the communist glory of the common good over the individual person. That was the hostile world that The Fountainhead book and movie entered and chose to take on against all comers. The intellectuals and media opinion leaders of the time, with very few exceptions, had nothing but hysterical hatred for Rand’s ethics and politics. But the American spirit of freedom and individualism stood tall among key Hollywood figures (Barbara Stanwyck, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, all wanted to be in the movie). That wide star support carried the day and blew away the altruist-collectivist antagonists. Ayn Rand was given complete (and unheard of) control of the screenplay and script.

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

Directed by King Vidor, score by Max Steiner, Warner Brothers’ studios, 1949.

Milo Anderson, who did the costume design, should have won an Oscar… based on Patricia Neal’s wardrobe alone. [All I can say about Patricia Neal as Dominique is Wow! This is the sexiest, classiest, most well-dressed, and most beautiful creature in the universe… to this day.] Further, the artistic designs of the buildings that Roark was supposed to have created were otherworldly and exquisite. Speaking of Oscars, I can see nominations for the movie not only in costume and the building designs, but in the powerful musical score by Max Steiner, and a best actress nod to Patricia Neal, as well. Further, King Vidor brings to life the Randian universe like no one ever has, then or since: this is a movie about the creative artist, his ideas, and unbridled passion for the best within us.

Trying to describe the plot of a Randian novel is extremely difficult because what’s important are the ideas that motivate and accentuate everything the heroes and villains do. I’ll give you the IMDb summary:

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

… AND he falls in love with a beautiful woman who at first refuses to support him because he’s too brilliant and independent and the mob will turn him into fodder; he meets this woman, a rich socialite, in a rock quarry and their romantic introduction looks a lot like rape; he fights an extraordinary battle to defend himself from charges of blowing up a building; he makes a courtroom statement extolling the virtues of selfishness and condemning the ideals of the collective herd morality around us.

So boy becomes architect, defies conventional standards, creates bold and beautiful new designs that no one ever has conceived before, refuses to compromise his creations to others’ dictates, has a fall from architectural employment, meets girl, returns to architecture, finds girl, loses girl, vies for girl’s love against a rich rival with antipodal ideas, is forced into a crisis that reveals (and resolves) the main ethical/ideological conflict of our age, etc.

The Effect

Key word in the former paragraph: resolves. Ayn Rand, via The Fountainhead, which I read as a senior in high school, 49 years ago, completely changed the flight path of my life. Cause-oriented from kindergarten, I used her self-liberating, self-transforming ideas to set in motion an entire new clarity of purpose to my work. I taught myself to type and to write, abandoned pursuit of a baseball career, and became a young leader for liberty and reason. Which did create some rough edges in my personal life, but those, too—as I learned my way to intellectual-psychological independence—yielded to good sense and positive input from my parents, mainly, then my wife, and people of my work world, at least, over the years.

I became a leader for liberty in the Michigan College Republicans milieu, leading up to the Libertarian Party’s Michigan founding, in 1972. I led the Students of Objectivism (Ayn Rand’s philosophy) club at Wayne State University, Detroit, in the middle of the student mobilization—heavily collectivist-dominated—era of the 1970s. Participating in debates against advocates of statism and theistic mysticism. Etc., etc. Rand’s works were not free of holes by any means, but they were a shining beacon of cultural sanity in that time of mass moral and intellectual abdication by teachers and students, not to mention political-economy officialdom.

As I stated earlier, the central war Rand articulates is the individual against the collective. She provides inspiration for tens of thousands like me, over generations. The Fountainhead  novel continues to be one of the best selling books in history, selling hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide year after year. The movie always took a back seat to the novel, among the faithful. But it shouldn’t. There’s nothing like seeing movie stars fighting and winning the grand causes you’re committed to. Those Rand fans who disparage the movie usually mention that Gary Cooper was over his head or that the courtroom speech should have been shortened. I disagree completely with both points.

Watching the movie reminds one that we the (individual) people are going to win. We’ll prevail over collectivist evil and create an abundant, intelligent society based on reason, freedom, and peace—for people at their best, as loving, caring, problem-solving, imaginative, creative and selfish individuals. Hail to man as hero. Superb emotional fuel.

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4 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Fountainhead (1949)

  1. As I implied from my response to Roger, people who have succumbed to collective brain syndrome literally CANNOT SEE independent consciousness, much less its extraordinary virtue. Patricia Neal’s performance is stellar and warranted an Academy Award.

  2. I have to agree with Roger above. I think Ayn Rand has some points, but this film is nothing more than a turgid polemic – these aren’t real characters uttering anything close to real lines, and the acting is painful. Patricia Neal is gorgeous – no argument there – but her acting is so wooden you can’t believe it’s the same person who, 14 years later, would turn out so masterful a performance in Hud.

    Cooper does what he can; Raymond Massey poses and declaims his way throughout, never once attempting to portray an actual person.

    Just awful – not a real, human moment in the entire movie; a bloodless, pedagogical tract.

  3. This movie is so bad it is actually entertaining. The final, utterly ludicrous courtroom scene is the most hilarious thing put on film since Blazing Saddles. I shudder to think what you might produce if you consider this a great movie.

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