Fountainhead, The

Director: King Vidor

Receiving a re-release in a new print to coincide with the ‘Year of Architecture’ celebrations in the U.K., The Fountainhead makes a very welcome return regardless of the reasons. Not only is it the best film ever made about architecture, but it is also one of the most extraordinary and atypical features ever produced by a major Hollywood studio (appropriately, given our current 75th Anniversary tribute, it’s a Warner Bros. Picture). Inspired by the life of Frank Lloyd Wright, Ayn Rand’s neo-nietzschean novel provides a heady mixture of morality, eroticism and uncomfotable politics. In the movie, Gary Cooper plays architect Howard Roark, who is so committed to his ideals that he refuses to bow to the demands of big business. Rather than compromise, Roark is happy to accept work as a labourer, and when one of his designs is altered he doesn’t hesitate before blowing up the finished building. He’s assisted by Dominique (Patricia Neal), an intelligent heiress who at first can’t cope with her passion for Rourk and retreats into a loveless marriage with a newspaper tycoon.
Sparks fly between Cooper and Neal, producing the kind of stunning sexual fireworks that Vidor brought to his great Western melodrama Duel in the Sun. The casting of Cooper is inspired, giving a new twist to his image as the straighforward all-American hero. What makes the film so unusual, even bizarre, is the way it conflates Rand’s right-wing ideology with the kind of popular socialism that Vidor espoused in his earlier films. Vidor attempted to commission Lloyd Wright to execute the designs for The Fountainhead, but in the event it was down to production designer Edward Carrere to parody his work. Still, with the help of Carrere and cinematographer Robert Burks (Hitchcock’s long-time collaborator), Vidor turned the film into an astonishing visual experience, juxtaposing exaggerated panoramas of the New York skyline with some of cinema’s sleekest modernist interiors.

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