THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949) B/W 114m dir: King Vidor
w/Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Kent Smith, Robert Douglas, Henry Hull, Ray Collins, Moroni Olsen, Jerome Cowan, Paul Harvey, Harry Woods, Paul Stanton, Bob Alden, Tristram Coffin, Roy Gordon, Isabel Withers, Almira Sessions, Tito Vuolo, William Haade, Gail Bonney, Thurston Hall, Dorothy Christy, Harlan Warde, Jonathan Hale, Frank Wilcox, Douglas Kennedy, Pierre Watkin, Selmar Jackson, John Doucette, John Alvin, Geraldine Wall, Fred Kelsey, Paul Newland, George Sherwood, Lois Austin, Josephine Whittell, Lester Dorr, Bill Dagwell, Charles Trowbridge, Russell Hicks, Raymond Largay, Charles Evans, Morris Ankrum, Griff Barnett, G. Pat Collins, Ann Doran, Ruthelma Stevens, Creighton Hale, Philo McCullough
Cooper stars as Ayn Rand's archetypal individualist, an architect modeled on Frank Lloyd Wright who is willing to blow up his own work rather than see it perverted by public housing bureaucrats. Elaborate and highly stylized, the film was adapted by Rand from her novel. Bring on the black negligee and the wind machine!
From the Monarch Film Series book, King Vidor, written by John Baxter, who interviewed Vidor extensively about his films: "Even though it was to become one of his most famous and distinguished films, [Vidor] remarks only, 'In 1948 I accepted an assignment from Warner Brothers to direct a film, starring Gary Cooper, based on the controversial novel The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.'
"When I remarked that the central impression of The Fountainhead is one of stylization, Vidor said, 'I'm glad to hear you say that. It's just what I had in mind.' He seldom worked with simpler materials nor made such remarkable use of them, achieving effects the accuracy of which he could sometimes only guess at. Imagining the hallucinating impression, for instance, of the Manhattan skyline seen through an ambulance window by a dying man, he shot Henry Hull's ride to the hospital from his point of view, the the peaks of the skyscrapers reeling by beyond the painted cross. 'And only a few years ago I was taken to the hospital. Looking out the window I saw the buildings exactly as I had made them appear in that scene.'
"In The Crowd, Vidor had affirmed his vision of the city as an extension of nature, relentless, severe, a jealous and fickle god, an image that reached its fruition in The Fountainhead, where New York's skyscrapers are the film's real focus, rather than the character of Howard Roark (Gary Cooper), the uncompromising architect who destroys his work rather than see its purity impaired. Before the film, Vidor studied the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, allegedly the model for Roark, but Cooper's performance, reflecting little of the crusty, philosophizing Wright, belongs with the heroes of other Vidor films; the half-controlled ferocity of Rogers [Spencer Tracy in NORTHWEST PASSAGE], the indomitability of Dangloss [Brian Donlevy in AN AMERICAN ROMANCE], the dumb persistence of Jim Apperson in The Big Parade and of John Sims in The Crowd, the idealism of Dr. Manson in The Citadel all appear in Howard Roark, and Dominique Wynant [*] (Patricia Neal) compresses all the unromantic but sexually aggressive heroines of earlier films. The Fountainhead has spectacular scenes of erotic tension, which fed on the unexpected attraction of the co-stars. 'I drove her to Fresno,' Vidor recollected of Patricia Neal, 'and as soon as she and Cooper met, they went at one another. I guess it happened at dinner that night, because the next day it was all on.' This mutual passion communicates itself superbly in the bedroom scene where Roark, reduced to working in a stone quarry, is summoned by Dominique to replace a flagstone she has intentionally broken. Attraction has been established in an earlier scene in which she visits the quarry, lusting covertly after the indifferent Roark as he drives the spike of a jackhammer into the leaning wall of stone, and in her boudoir, a space dissolved by mirrors and shadows, the calm shatters like a pane of glass. But for all its sexual tension, The Fountainhead's most remarkable quality is the stylization at which Vidor so accurately aimed. Partly because of a low budget, most of the buildings are reduced to simple, elegant abstractions, rooms to harmonious geometrical arrangements of objects. Some rooms do not exist at all, but are merely suggested; one of his favorite effects, learned, Vidor acknowledged, from his studies of German painting, is to create with perspective and lighting an effect of space where none exists. Hospitals in The Big Parade, Japanese War Bride, and The Crowd --- clearly Vidor regards them as particularly impersonal --- are created on empty stages with a few beds leading off in forced perspective, an effect used in The Fountainhead for a deserted newspaper office. Even more apt is the symbolism of objects or their absence; telegraphing her self-reliance, Dominique arrives at a party without that most essential of feminine props, a handbag, while the emptiness of her marriage to newspaper baron Gail Wynant [*] (Raymond Massey) is conveyed by a lamp whose transparent base contains a trapped fish. Many of the script's lines read even more flatly than one thought possible even for Miss Rand --- 'I play the stockmarket of the spirit and I sell short,' remarks architecture critic Ellsworth Toohey (Robert Douglas) with heavy significance --- but in its stark invention and the flamboyant finale in which Roark stands atop a phallic skyscraper while Dominique races to meet him, one sees Vidor at his paradoxical best."
* Baxter incorrectly identifies the name as "Wynant," when in the film it is clearly shown to be "Wynand," with a "d" on the end, not a "t."