The Fountainhead (1949)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Message Movie, Psychological Drama, Film a Clef  |   Release Date - Jul 2, 1949 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 114 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Ayn Rand's adaptation of her own classic novel deconstructs numerous provocative and age-old societal opposites: integrity vs. conformity, the individual vs. the collective, selfishness vs. selflessness, power vs. weakness. The Fountainhead couches these in the deceptively fertile subject of architecture, and casts the unflappable Gary Cooper as the against-the-grain designer nearly Galilean in his trailblazing spirit, which comes across as either arrogantly bullheaded or defiantly courageous depending on one's analysis of the issues. Rand's plot is intricate and ever more evocative as it rolls forward, most notably in the person of the complex, flip-flopping newspaper editor (Raymond Massey), who embodies, at different times, both the spineless cowardice Howard Roark abhors and the heedless determination he prizes. Rand's talky philosophies, which dominate the film for better or worse, invite endless contemplation about what it means to be a trendsetter and to protect the purity of one's artistic endeavors, especially in a world eager to quash those who challenge the status quo. Amid this high-mindedness, the romantic relationship between Cooper and Patricia Neal feels overblown and inappropriately Harlequin, surely a concession to Hollywood expectations, which has a certain thematic irony of its own for Rand, if one considers the uncompromising architect her stand-in. Everything else in The Fountainhead is meaty with thematic import, solidified by the acting and King Vidor's directing, which earns kudos for keeping the audience glued to a nearly two-hour movie that's mostly dialogue.