Fountainhead, The (1949): King Vidor’s Powerfully Erotic Melodrama, Starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal

King Vidor took Ayn Rand’s didactic and pretentious novel of the same title (inspired by the life Frank Lloyd Wright), about individual creativity, power and compromise, and turned it into a highly enjoyable, juicy Freudian melodrama.

Among other reasons, the movie became a cause celebre, due to the illicit romantic affair between the two leads, Gary Cooper (who was married) and Patricia Neal, who was forced by the Hollywood gossip ladies to leave town!

At his most handsome and popular, Cooper is well cast Howard Roark, an idealistic, highly unorthodox architect. Burdened with financial difficulties, he takes a job in a stone quarry where he meets Dominique (Patricia Neal), the beautiful heiress.

The initial mutual attraction soon turns into passionate love, but Roark ends the affair abruptly and returns to New York when he is offered an architectural commission.

Dominique, meanwhile, weds newspaper tycoon Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey), whose paper, “The Banner,” wages a nasty, violent campaign against Roark’s ideas.

Soon, however, Peter Keating, a society architect, enlists Roark’s help in designing a public-housing project.  Roark agrees, although he insists that, once his designs are accepted, nothing can be changed.  Later, after returning from a trip with Wynand, now his ally, Roark discovers innumerable changes in his original conception.  In a state of uncontrollable rage, he destroys the unfinished structure with dynamite.

At his trial, Roark is acquitted by a brilliant self-defense.  Wynand, frantic because he was unable to help his friend, takes his life, but commissions Roark to build the world’s highest building as his memorial.   Roark with Dominique, now his wife, beside him, begins working enthusiastically on this assignment.

Roark is the type of architect-genius, who would rather be unemployed than sacrifice his mores or compromise his integrity by designing buildings to please the philistines. As such, he is contrasted with Gail Wynand, a man who has accumulated immense power by abandoning all scruples.

This highly operatic Greek melodrama is replete with bombastic moralistic speeches and phallic imagery (low angles of horses rising, narrow skyscrapers), but the images are dynamic, and there is tension in the mise en scene of King Vidor, specifically in the way he shoots, frames and edits individuals vis-à-vis- their physical space.

Vidor’s technical virtuosity was manifest early on, in his silent features and then talkies of the 1930s.   It’s worth noting that, despite many achievements in a diversity of genres (Westerns, melodramas, epics), Vidor, a five-time nominee, had never won a legit Oscar for Best Director.  Among his interesting films are “The Crowd,” “The Big Parade,” “Our Daily Bread,” “Stella Dallas,” with a splendid Barbara Stanwyck, “Man Without a Star,” and “War and Peace.”

In 1970s, as compensation, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) bestowed on Vidor an Honorary Oscar “for his incomparable achievements as a cinematic creator and innovator.”

When students of mine complain that the books upon which Hollywood movies are based are always better or more interesting, I mention “The Fountainhead” (and, of course, “Gone With the Wind”) as examples.

Gary Cooper (Howard Roark)

Patricia Neal (Dominique)

Raymond Massey (Gail Wynand)

Kent Smith (Peter Keating)

Robert Douglas (Ellsworth Toohey)

Henry Hull (Henry Cameron)

Ray Collins (Enright)

Moroni Olsen (Chairman)

Jerome Cowan (Alvah Scarret)

Paul Harvey (A Business Man)

Harvey Woods (The Superintendent)

Paul Stanton (The Dean)

Bob Alden (Newsboy)

Tristram Coffin (Secretary)

Roy Gordon (Vice-President)

Isabel Withers (Secretary)

Almira Sessions (Housekeeper)

Tito Vuolo, William Haade (Workers)

Gail Bonney (Woman)

Thurston Hall (Businessman)

Drrothy Christy (Society Woman)

Harlan Wade (Young Man)

Jonathan Hale (Guy Franchon)

Frank Wilcox (Gordon Prescott)

Douglas Kennedy (Reporter)

Pierre Watkin, Selmer Jackson (Officials)

John Doucette (Gus Webb)

John Alvin (Young Intellectual)

Geraldine Wall (Woman)

Fred Kelsey (Old Watchman)

Paul Newland, George Sherwood (Policemen)

Lois Austin (Woman Guest)

Josephine Whittell (Hostess)

Lester Dorr (Man)

Bill Dagwell (Shipping Clerk)

Charles Trowbridge, Russell Hicks, Raymond Largay, Charles Evans (Directors)

Morris Ankrum (Prosecutor)

Griff Barnett (Judge)

G. Pat Collins (Foreman)

Ann Doran, Ruthelma Stevens (Secretaries)

Creighton Hale (Clerk)

Philo McCullough (Bailiff)


Released by Warner

Director: King Vidor.

Producer: Henry Blanke.

Scenarist: Ayn Rand, from her novel The Fountainhead.

Photographer: Robert Burks.

Editor: David WEisbart.

Art Director: Edward Carrere.

Musical Score: Max Steiner.

Sound Recorder: Oliver S. Garretson.

Set Decorator: William Kuehl.

Dialogue Director: Jack Daniels.

Orchestrator: Murray Cutter.

Special Effects: William McGann, Edwin DuPar, H.F. Koenekamp, John Holden.

Costumer: Milo Anderson.

Makeup Artists: Perc Westmore, John Wallace.

Assistant Director: Dick Mayberry.

Production Manager: Eric Stacey.

Hair Stylist: Gertrude Wheeler.

Grip: Harold Noyse.

Gaffer: Earl Ellwood.

Still Man: Jack Woods.

Operating Cameraman: James Bell.

Script Supervisor: Rita Michaels.