The Fountainhead Reviews
This is no ordinary story. It is one of the 3 main novels in the trilogy of Ayn Rand's cult philosophy of Objectivism. The other 2 novels being "Atlas Shrugged" and "Anthem", which oddly never received a major Hollywood production despite their classic status. Perhaps it is because Rand's Objectivism is more extreme than Libertarianism, which are out of place in left wing Hollywood.
The film is well acted, perhaps overacted, by Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal and Raymond Massey. King Vidor directs. The story itself is driven by larger-than-life character, Howard Roark, is difficult to take realistically. The emphasis on architecture is also another plot device that seems unnatural in the present (and past) world. However, Rand is making a strong point in that a human should be fiercely independent and respected for being such. Any collective actions by liberals, unionists, and the weak should not be allowed to supress the greatness an individual may attain.
Ayn Rand's ultra-conservative, right-wing philosophy is typically celebrated by idealistic late teenagers and 20-somethings until it becomes watered down by the realities of the harsh world we all must face.
However, the strong direction by King Vidor matches the exuberance of the script and manages to create an interesting world full of tall buildings for the characters to dwell in. The beautiful cinematography helps too. No matter its failings, the film will make you think, although not neccessarily in the way Ayn Rand would like you to do.
Howard Roarke is an aspiring architect that is a visionary and has new and unique ideas on how to approach his work and will not deviate from his beliefs from anyone. Meanwhile, one of his best friends believes in getting rich and delivering vanilla quality material to meet demand. Howard falls on his face professional and is eventually penniless. He begins working in a quarry and ultimately meets a girl, falls in love, but leaves her to pick his profession back up once he has a little money stashed away. Will Roarke ever be successful and what will come of his former fling?
"Twenty years ago I would have punched you in the face with the greatest of pleasure."
King Vidor, director of War and Peace, The Crowd, Duel in the Sun, The Big Parade, Man without a Star, On our Merry Way, The Citadel, and The Texas Rangers, delivers The Fountainhead. The storyline for this picture is amazing (not as good as the book, but still entertaining). The acting is first rate and the cast includes Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Henry Hull, and Ray Collins.
"Haven't you ever loved someone?"
"No, and I don't intend to."
I read this book a long time ago then came across this movie on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) with Gary Cooper and knew I had to see it. Was this as good as the book? Of course not. Was it good? Absolutely. Howard Roarke is such a mesmerizing character that was so well written you just can't wait to see what happens next. I strongly recommend seeing this and reading the book (but not in that order).
"You're on your way into hell."
This film offers a good bit of style and a great deal of limitations, and heights in both go reflected within Robert Burks' cinematography, which both held back by and thrives on a black-and-white color palette, which falls over crisp definition and occasionally ingenious plays on lighting in order to establish an almost noirish flavor that is handsome, if not captivating throughout the drama. This visual style, in addition to such other artistic touches as nifty visuals, supplement the aesthetic value which is decidedly as impressive, if not more impressive than anything else in this narratively sloppy affair of respectable style. Of course, if inspiration stands so firm in directorial style, then King Vidor can go only so far with his shortcomings in directorial storytelling before hitting highlights, and sure enough, when Vidor hits, entertainment value is sustained, occasionally augmented by genuine dramatic tension. Make no mistake, much more often than not, Vidor falls flat, and about as often as he hits highlights, he just about embarrasses with his dated, if not outright incompetent missteps, yet the fact of the matter is that highlights stand, helping you in seeing the potential here. Although I have not read any of Ayn Rand's classic material, I don't suppose her dramatic competence was ever even close to the level of her thematic competence, for even in concept, this story is a hopelessly melodramatic affair whose sloppiness will be touched more upon later, and whose genuinely worthy aspects are very much worthy, in their establishing some biting histrionic intrigue, and plenty of intriguing themes regarding business' and society's interpretation of questionable innovation, and how innovators interpret the critical. While more limited than fans of the original, ostensibly non-cinematic like to think, potential stands, and it's hard to deny that when it comes in glimpses through commendable style and heights in substance. Still, on the whole, the final product is surprisingly mediocre, being a misguided take on a misguided story which isn't even sharp enough to be as thorough as it ought to be with its characterization.
Over-celebratory of its themes and shamelessly manufactured with its dramatics, this film needs more than just adequate flesh-out in order to thrive as a character study, and the characterization here, with its lack of immediate development and shortage on gradual exposition, simply isn't up to the task of getting you invested in contrived and thin characters. Nonetheless, as undercooked as the film is, it, at just shy of two hours, still has plenty of time to drag its feet, not just through cold spells in King Vidor's direction, but through meanderings in Ayn Rand's script, whose bloating in plot layering doesn't exactly gel with all of the aforementioned expository bumblings. Rand's over 700-page epic is adapted into a two-hour melodrama which is all over the place with its pacing and structure, with enough of the source material's dynamicity retained for the messy structuring to lead to some serious focal inconsistencies which make the final product almost exhaustingly convoluted. Still, there is something consistent throughout the storytelling, and that is conventions, because even though there is a potential for uniqueness, the execution of a promising story is so riddled with tropes that the final product stands as just plain trite, with nothing new, - despite its following themes of rejecting conformity to artistry - and most everything questionable about Hollywood formulas of this time. I don't know if it's simply the test of time doing a number on the filmmaking abilities of this drama, or sheer incompetence which modern critics disregard, but I'm just not comfortable with this film's very Hollywood lack of subtlety, which draws thin roles for too many of the performers - save decent leading man Gary Cooper - to portray questionably, and too many embarrassingly shoddy dialogue pieces and obvious visuals and set pieces for you to get past the contrivances which are even found in concept. Again, Rand's dramatic writing seems to have always been beneath her thematic writing, and this film reflects that through a layered, but startlingly melodramatic and occasionally unfocused plot that thematic value could make up for, and perhaps would have made up for if it wasn't for all of the incompetent miscalculations in structuring and subtlety which betray thematic value, and further stress the blandness and misguidance of this story, until the final product is barely ever truly engaging. Sure, there are compelling moments found here and there throughout the film, and there's enough of them for the final product to all but achieve a decency which is ultimately lost by utterly erroneous filmmaking that make the final product yet another misfire of an overrated classic.
Overall, handsome visual style and other attractive stylistic touches to direction which hits a few dramatic highlights to do a degree of justice to intriguing subject matter, thus, the final product borders on a decent state that is ultimately lost amidst the thin characterization, bland dragging, exhaustingly convoluted unevenness, genericisms, and dramatic incompetence which, behind a hopelessly melodramatic and overwrought story, make King Vidor's "The Fountainhead" a mediocre piece of dated, melodramatic filmmaking.
2.25/5 - Mediocre