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 novel and the film it is clearly shown to be "Wynand," with a "d" on the end, not a "t."

From the Senses of Cinema website (, this 2013 article about the film by Dan Shaw:

"From Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Dave, most mainstream Hollywood films that deal with politics have delivered a populist message. Not so with the film version of Ayn Rand’s hit novel The Fountainhead, which is a paean to radical individualism. Few films have ever so explicitly expressed a political ideology. Rand ensured that this one would do so by negotiating an unprecedented clause in her screenplay contract that mirrored the demands of her protagonist, Howard Roark: she was guaranteed it would be filmed as she wrote it.

"In her 1960 essay 'For the New Intellectual,' Rand offered a broad vision of the history of human societies. She contended that, prior to the founding of America, all previous societies were ruled by character types she called Attilas and Witch Doctors. Attilas were men of power, who forced their will on subservient masses by physical compulsion. Witch Doctors were masters of superstition and religious belief that appealed to the emotions and were the real powers behind the throne. Both ruled by a combination of physical threats and emotional appeals to altruistic self-sacrifice for the good of the whole, and both were parasitic on the productive individuals that created the means for sustaining and enhancing human life. According to Rand, all previous societies were founded and controlled by these parasitic types, while 'the first society in history ... [to be] led, dominated and created by the Producers was the United States of America.' The Producers are thinkers and men of action who shape the raw materials of nature to suit human ends. They are governed by their intellect, not their emotions, and require a laissez-faire capitalist economic system to best attain their ends: 'a free mind and a free market are corollaries.' Like her intellectual precursor, John Locke, Rand founded her doctrines on the assumption that men by nature are rational beings, and that they cannot realise their full potential if they fail to be governed by such conscious rationality.

"American democracy forged a unique alliance between Rand’s two primary productive types, the intellectual and the businessman, with Founding Fathers like Jefferson and Franklin functioning in both roles. Because 'the degree of any given country’s economic freedom was the exact degree of its progress, America, the freest, achieved the most.' But, by the early 1940s, she sensed a looming crisis of confidence in American ideals, which had come to fruition by the 1960s. According to Rand, liberalism, existentialist nihilism and Marxist socialism had led intellectuals and philosophers to turn on businessmen, creating a bad conscience about profit that threatened to erode the American Dream. The primary purpose of Rand’s essay was to call for new intellectuals to help overcome this bad conscience, and restore the self-confidence that the businessman needs to realise 'his' productive potential.

"Rand was convinced that the New Deal had undermined the unique nature of American democracy, and The Fountainhead was an attempt to restore it to its former glory. Howard Roark, her ideal individual, is the archetypal producer, acting on his creative drive and oblivious to what others think. Peter Keating, his architectural rival, is a true parasite, catering to public opinion and unable to do anything original. Ellsworth Toohey is a cunning Witch Doctor, champion of the notion of self-sacrifice for the good of the whole. Gail Wynand is a surprisingly sympathetic Attila, humanised by his love for Dominique Francon and friendship with Roark. Each stands for a pure concept in Rand’s philosophy, and all of their actions (and artificial dialogue) stem there from.

"The crux of the cautionary tale Rand was weaving was that behind all collectivist/altruist notions of society is an incipient fascism, which is made possible when selfless individuals cease to rule themselves. Toohey must destroy Roark because he is a great man, an individualist that cannot be dominated and so must be eliminated. In what Durgnat and Simmon claim is the longest speech in cinematic history up until that point, Roark offers a spirited defense at his trial. The essence of Rand’s position is didactically stated in his summation, and gains added power from the simplicity of Cooper’s presentation:

"The great creators, the thinkers, artists, scientists and inventors, stood alone against the men of their time. Every new thought was opposed, every new invention was denounced. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they paid, and they suffered, but they won. No creator was prompted by a desire to please his brothers, for they rejected the gift that he offered. His truth was his motive, his own truth, and his own work to achieve it in his own way [...]. My ideas are my property. They were taken from me by force, by breach of contract. No appeal was left to me [...] The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrifice. I came [...] in the name of every man of independence still left in the world. I came here to state my terms. I do not care to work or live on any others. My terms are a man’s right to exist for his own sake.

"This brief excerpt indicates the rhetorical force that convinced not just the jury, but the board that enforced the Hollywood Production Code, which Roark broke by committing a crime that was so richly rewarded.

"King Vidor was a surprisingly apt director for the film, despite the fact that one of his early hits was Our Daily Bread (1934), which had a decidedly communal and populist message. But, by 1944, he had joined the anti-Communist Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. As the Turner Classic Movies citation for him notes: 'King Vidor’s films range across all genres, but they are unified by a concern with the struggle for selfhood in a pluralistic, mass society.'

"Rumours of deep tensions between director and writer were rife, but Vidor’s later comment seems to play this down:

"I got along great with her. They didn’t even have to pay her because she was so anxious to get the book on the screen. She said she’d do it under one condition --- if they changed any lines, she wanted to be telephoned and called to the studio. That was a great help to me because actors always want to change lines. So I used that as a prop. I’d say to Gary Cooper, 'Okay, you’ll have to phone Ayn Rand.' And he’d say, 'How long will it take her to get here?' 'Oh, it’ll be about an hour.' And he’d say, 'Oh God, let’s go, I’ll read the line.' Many actors, out of nervousness or fear, will say, 'I can’t read that line.' But if they try hard they can.

"For The Fountainhead I always thought that either Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney was the ideal casting, not Gary Cooper, because he’s such a nice and quiet guy. But when I saw the picture a few years later I thought Cooper was ideal because he’s very quiet and he just says, 'No, that’s not the way I want it.' Very quiet, like the strong guy of High Noon, and I thought it was much better than having a guy losing his temper and being arrogant and yelling.

"Vidor’s stylistic choices were crucial to the film’s overall impact. The menacing atmosphere of The Fountainhead is achieved by 'borrowing film noir's angles and darkness, its paranoia, its focus on a beleaguered or tormented individual. In that sense, the film noir is anti-populist. Every man walks alone down dark, mean streets.' The threat of the collective herd is given symbolic expression here, and the loneliness of the authentic creator is made palpable. But, unlike the typical film noir protagonist, Roark’s destruction is not inevitable, and his triumph is filmed in the bright light of day, with his head up in the proverbial clouds."