For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Black & White Movies, here’s a review of The Fountainhead (1954) by Steven of Past Present Future TV and Film
Thanks again to Steven of Past Present Future TV and Film. for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Sherise of The Girl That Loved to Review. We will be reviewing our favorite movies from the 1970’s. Please get me your submissions by the 25th of September by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org Try to think out of the box! Great choice Sherise!
Let’s see what Steven thought of this movie:
On Second Thought: “The Fountainhead”
Occasionally a film, that’s not particularly good in any way, will be one that you watch repeatedly, even though that makes no sense. If a film is bad or not to your liking, why sit through it multiple times? Surely once is enough. I guess that can be filed with the mystery that is why we watch some films at all, even though we know the trailer makes it look bad and will probably be bad.
The Warner Bros. Pictures film “The Fountainhead”, is a strange film that’s oddly intriguing every time I begin watching it, if given the chance and if I choose to do so.
This drama stars Gary Cooper (“High Noon”, “Sergeant York”), Patricia Neal (“The Subject Was Roses”, “Hud”), Raymond Massey (“Dr. Kildare”, “Abe Lincoln in Illinois”), Kent Smith (“Once an Eagle”, “Peyton Place”), Robert Douglas (“Helen of Troy (1956)”, “Ivanhoe”), Henry Hull (“The Chase”, “The Buccaneer”), Ray Collins (“Perry Mason”, “Touch of Evil”), Moroni Olsen (“Father’s Little Dividend”, “Mildred Pierce (1945)”), and Jerome Cowan (“All in a Night’s Work”, “Miracle on 34th Street (1947)”).
The film was directed by King Vidor (“War and Peace”, “Man Without a Star”) and written by Ayn Rand (“Love Letters”, “You Came Along”). It is based on her novel of the same name.
The film originally opened on July 2, 1949.
Okay, so this doesn’t fully fit the category, but I think it does enough. Plus, as an added bonus, it was just on, so how could I pass up this opportunity? This movie, and it’s been ages, like so many that I see, was aired as part of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) 2015 Summer Under the Stars, which focuses each day of August on one particular actor. When this film was aired, the day was dedicated to the films Neal did during her career. I was excited that because of this I’d get another opportunity to see this bizarre film. I’d read the book and seen it once before, but hadn’t fully figured out what I thought. So, here we are. Me about to explain what makes this a favorite, and it’s not for the reason you think.
The theme, or philosophy really, of the entire book is pretty clear. Even in the book it was clear, although by the time I’d read it I had spent nine months reading “Atlas Shrugged” and that spent a lot of time hammering the points across. The philosophy is something called Objectivism, and the only thing on it I will say is that it has multiple tenets, and the one that dominates this film (and book) is individualism. After that, if you want, you can go and look up more about it, along with maybe seeing this film. It’s mildly complicated to go on about in any meaningful way, plus I’m not well versed in it anyway.
This I’m sad, but willing to say, is what makes this film a favorite and one able to be enjoyed. Let me try to explain. As this is an adaptation of a book with a philosophical belief at it’s center, using characters to represent this view, it was vital this be brought over into the film. Without this, you’d have uninteresting characters going on about architecture and doing boring things in their lives that you could care less about. When I first saw this, as now, I was so excited to see it all unfold very much like it did in the book. From the stand point of an adaptation, it was very faithful. Points for that. These beliefs helped to make these characters come through and be understood.
Really quickly (probably before the film reached 15 minutes) you understood where Cooper’s Roark was coming from. Why he did what he did. Of course, if you’d managed to not catch on that quickly, the rest of the film (like the book) will make sure to go on about it through example after example, through various character interactions and situations. One fine example comes when Roark is trying to get a commission to build and he’s told he can, but only if he allows for slight alterations. These alterations aren’t on his original building (which is allowed to essentially remain in tact), but are more like add ons. Balconies and such. The response from the people asking for him to build and agree to this is, “Originality is fine, but why go to extremes?” These aren’t the words of someone that wants something unique, but someone that wants things to just be as they are. After all, it’s what the public has come to expect and you should be doing this for them and not yourself.
While I never tire of hearing these characters speak with this belief in mind, as it’s just so fascinating, I can’t ignore the rest of the film, as it is still a film. Almost two hours. In the moment I can mostly put it out of my mind, but when the film ends, it all comes flooding back. It’s not pretty.
For starters, there’s bad acting. There’s bad acting moments from just about everyone but Neal really stands out in that regard. It doesn’t help that she’s the female lead and heroine. Neal is also super awkward in this film, and that’s mainly as she’s too young for the part. The performances are overdramatic. And no, they’re not overdramatic in a spoof of Lifetime movie sort of way, but overdramatic in that special way in which Hollywood studios thought it was good acting, but really it wasn’t. You know, that way that most actors “acted in a lot of the earlier films, including some that went on to be recognized by awards. On top of the bad acting was the fact that overall, including the philosophical motivations, these characters were quite lifeless. Stiff. Wooden. Cardboard. All of the above. No amount of hoping could change that. It’s what makes me quite sad for this film.
As if the bad acting wasn’t enough, this film saw fit to include what they thought was good score. It wasn’t. As with the acting, far from it. The score was this loud annoying “dramatic” score, that I guess was supposed to signal to the audience that that particular scene (the one where the score is playing) is dramatic. All it did was jostle me from the semi-bored state of mind I found myself in. When these characters weren’t being evil or going on about their motivations, particularly Cooper and sometimes Neal, I found myself quite bored. At times wishing the film would be over. This again goes to how uninteresting the characters were. If you don’t have even mildly interesting characters, the rest of what’s going on doesn’t matter a whole lot as you’re focused on putting up with these people.
Normally this type of film, as a whole, would be one I’d completely slam for being bad and move on. However, due to there being a bit more of a complicated story involved, I can’t. I have no intention of diving in deeper to understand the philosophy presented, but still find this film compelling enough to watch and write about. Maybe it’s because I’m one of so few (in recent memory, I’m sure) that have read the book and can appreciate it for its literary value, even if the philosophical aspects are hard to miss. That alone allows me to come at this film from a different view point than the average viewer. Guess this reasoning will do for now, or I’ll just grow tired of this film.