For a critical judgment of The Fountainhead (1949), I bow to the courtly derision of Bosley Crowther’s review from that year:
…a more curious lot of high-priced twaddle we haven’t seen for a long, long time.
With little to go on in the way of drama, he [Vidor] has worked for his emotional effects with clever cutting, heavy musical backing and having his actors speak and behave in solemn style.
I watched this film on the suggestion of Ducky’s Here who made this comment on my post regarding my abandoned attempt to read Atlas Shrugged. I agree; it’s a must-see. There’s nothing like it, and since Ayn Rand was directly involved in creating and approving this film treatment, it sheds yet more light, if any is needed, on the essential kookiness of her ideas.
At the core of the story is a tale of sexual dominance and submission. In the scene above, Dominique tells Roark that she will not, cannot be subdued. He, the Male Principle, replies that it depends on the strength of the adversary. She’s doomed, and she knows it. Nothing can keep her from going to his apartment, where he calmly awaits her submission. But she cannot endure her slavery to passion, so she ‘escapes’ by marrying a man she doesn’t love, and whom she regards as corrupt.
Roark is supposed to be the noble man of ideas, suffering the derision of the Mob. He wanders, solitary, like a samurai, following his code, not caring about his enemies. His arch detractor, Toohey (rhymes with phooey) accosts him, and tries to engage him dialogue, just for the satisfaction of it, but Roark doesn’t even give him the time of day.
Toohey is an evil, hypocritical, power-hungry, ‘collectivist’ who despises people, loves humanity, and spares no means in pursuit of his ends. In short, a socialist, and a sort of comic Stalin-in-waiting figure. How amusing that the picture on the wall in his office here is a portrait of John Locke. Rand getting cute with the production team, no doubt.
This scene also gets at the essential absurdity of this film and its story. Toohey convinces a hack architect, a former classmate of Roark’s, to try to design a big project. The hack can’t do it, and he begs Roark to design it for him, “just like you did in school.” So, this habit of academic and professional fraud is natural to Mr. Roark, the honorable egoist? And when his design is changed, he blows up the buildings, careless of property (John Locke would vomit) and human safety. He gets off after an amazing speech to the jury in which he regurgitates Rand’s cockeyed philosophy. (The speech is amazing for its length – Rand must have insisted on it. The delivery is wooden.)
We may also wonder why, if “the masses” are so stupid, which is the point of much of Roark’s speech (they always denounce the geniuses who bring them gifts), why do they acquit him? Apparently they can think?
The fountainhead refers to the spirit of the individual from which flows all human good. Roark’s is polluted with plagiarism from his schoolboy days. And maybe I’m asking too much from a Hollywood flick, but why is Roark’s trashy work seen as so avant garde, when by 1949, the International Modern Style was the favorite of corporate tycoons everywhere?