The Fountainhead (film)

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The Fountainhead
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKing Vidor
Produced byHenry Blanke
Screenplay byAyn Rand
Based onThe Fountainhead
by Ayn Rand
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyRobert Burks
Edited byDavid Weisbart
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • July 2, 1949 (1949-07-02)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.1 million (US)[2] $2,906,000 (worldwide)[1]

The Fountainhead is a 1949 American black-and-white drama film from Warner Bros. produced by Henry Blanke, directed by King Vidor and starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Robert Douglas and Kent Smith. The film is based on the bestselling 1943 novel of the same name by Ayn Rand, who also wrote the screenplay adaptation. Although Rand's screenplay was used with minimal alterations, she later criticized the film's editing, production design and acting.[3]

The story follows the life of the fictional character Howard Roark, an individualistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision. Roark fights to design modern architecture despite resistance from the traditionally minded architectural establishment. Roark's complex relationships with the individuals who assist or hinder his progress allow the film to be both a romantic drama and a philosophical work. Roark represents Rand's embodiment of the human spirit, and his struggle represents the struggle between individualism and collectivism.


Howard Roark is an individualistic architect who follows his own artistic path in the face of public conformity. Ellsworth Toohey, the architecture critic for The Banner newspaper, opposes Roark's individualism and volunteers to lead a print crusade against him. Wealthy and influential publishing magnate Gail Wynand pays little attention, approving the idea and giving Toohey a free hand. Dominique Francon, a glamorous socialite who writes a Banner column, admires Roark's designs, and opposes the paper's campaign against him. She is engaged to an architect, the unimaginative Peter Keating (Kent Smith). She never has met or seen Roark, but she believes that he is doomed in a world that abhors individualism. Wynand falls in love with Francon and exposes Keating as an opportunist.

Roark is unable to find a client willing to build according to his vision. He walks away from opportunities that involve any compromise of his standards. Broke, he takes a job as a day laborer in a quarry that belongs to Francon's father and is near the Francon summer home. The vacationing Francon visits the quarry on a whim and spots Roark, and they share a mutual attraction. Francon contrives to have Roark repair some white marble in her bedroom. Roark mocks her pretense, and after the first visit, he sends another worker to complete the repair. Francon is enraged and returns to the quarry on horseback. She finds Roark walking from the site. He again mocks her, and she strikes him across the face with her horsewhip. He later appears in her open bedroom, forcefully embracing and kissing her passionately. In his room, Roark finds a letter offering him a new building project. He immediately packs up and leaves. Francon later goes to the quarry and learns that Roark has quit. She does not know that he is Howard Roark, the brilliant architect whom she had once championed in print.

Wynand offers to marry Francon, though she is not in love with him. Francon demurs and soon learns Roark's true identity when she is introduced to him at a party opening the Enright House, a new building that Roark has designed. Francon goes to Roark's apartment and offers to marry him if he gives up architecture, saving himself from public rejection. Roark rejects her fears and says that they will face many years apart until she alters her thinking. Francon finds Wynand and accepts his marriage proposal. Wynand agrees and commissions Roark to build him a lavish but secluded country home. Wynand and Roark become friends, which drives Francon to jealousy.

Keating, employed to create an enormous housing project, requests Roark's help. Roark agrees, demanding that Keating must build it exactly as designed in exchange for permitting Keating to take all of the credit. With prodding from the envious Toohey, the firm backing the project alters the Roark design presented by Keating into a gingerbread monstrosity. Roark, with Francon's help, rigs explosives to destroy the buildings and is arrested at the site. Toohey pressures Keating into privately confessing that Roark had designed the project. Roark goes on trial and is painted as a public enemy by every newspaper apart from The Banner, in which Wynand now publicly campaigns on Roark's behalf. However, Toohey has permeated The Banner with men loyal to him. He has them quit and uses his clout to keep others out. He leads a campaign against The Banner's new policy that all but kills the newspaper. Faced with losing, Wynand saves The Banner by bringing back Toohey's gang, joining the rest in publicly condemning Roark.

Calling no witnesses, Roark addresses the court on his own behalf. He makes a long and eloquent speech defending his right to offer his own work on his own terms. He is found innocent of the charges against him. A guilt-stricken Wynand summons the architect and coldly presents him with a contract to design the Wynand Building, destined to become the greatest structure of all time, with complete freedom to build it however Roark sees fit. As soon as Roark leaves, Wynand pulls out a pistol and kills himself.

Months later, Francon enters the construction site of the Wynand Building and identifies herself as Mrs. Roark. She rises in the open construction elevator, looking upward toward the figure of her husband. Roark stands triumphant, his arms akimbo, near the edge of the tall skyscraper as the crosswinds buffet him atop his magnificent, one-of-a-kind creation.



Patricia Neal replaced Lauren Bacall as Dominique Francon

Barbara Stanwyck asked Jack L. Warner to buy the rights to the book for her. Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead in late 1943, asking Rand to write the screenplay. Rand agreed, on the condition that not a single word of her dialogue be changed.[4][5][6] The Fountainhead went into production with Mervyn LeRoy hired to direct, but the production was delayed.[7] LeRoy said that the delay was the result of the influence of the War Production Board, spurred by Rand's anti-Russian politics.[4] Stanwyck was not told of the decision to cast the more than 18 years younger Neal in the role that she had coveted until she read about it[when?] in the Hollywood trade papers. This led to her leaving Warner Bros.

Three years later, production commenced under the direction of King Vidor, although there were disputes among Rand, Vidor, and Warner Bros. throughout the production.[7] Vidor wanted Humphrey Bogart to play Howard Roark, and Rand wanted Gary Cooper to play the part.[5] Lauren Bacall was cast as Dominique Francon,[when?] but was replaced by Patricia Neal[why?].[4] Cooper criticized Neal's audition as badly acted, but she was cast against his judgment; during the production, Cooper and Neal began an affair.[6]


Rand completed her screenplay in June 1944. The setting of The Fountainhead is a collective society in which individuals and new ideas of architecture are not accepted, and all buildings must be constructed "... like Greek temples, Gothic cathedrals and mongrels of every ancient style they could borrow", in the deathbed words of Roark's patron Henry Cameron. Rand's screenplay criticized the Hollywood film industry and its self-imposed mandate to "give the public what it wants". Roark, in his architecture, refuses to give in to this demand "by the public". He refuses to work in any way that compromises his integrity and in which he would succumb to "popular taste".[4] In a similar vein, Rand wrote a new scene for the film in which Roark is rejected as architect for the Civic Opera Company of New York, an allusion to Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Civic Light Opera Company of Pittsburgh.[8]

While communism is not explicitly named, the film is interpreted as a criticism of the communist ideology and the lack of individual identity in a collective life under a communist society.[4][5] However, the novel's criticisms were aimed at Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, which is reflected in Rand's endorsement of modernism in architecture in both the book and the film.[9] In adapting her novel, Rand used the melodrama genre to dramatize the novel's sexuality and the aesthetics of modernistic architecture.[10]

Patricia Neal remembered that Rand often visited the set to "protect her screenplay".[4] During filming, Vidor decided that Roark's speech at the end of the film was too long, and decided to omit segments that he did not feel relevant to the plot.[6] After learning of Vidor's decision, Rand appealed to Jack L. Warner to honor her contract, and Warner persuaded Vidor to shoot the scene as she had written it.[4][5][6]

Rand later wrote a note thanking Warner and the studio for allowing the preservation of the novel's "... theme and spirit, without being asked to make bad taste concessions, such as a lesser studio would have demanded".[4]

However, Rand altered the film's plot slightly to be approved by the Production Code Administration. In the novel, Wynand divorces Dominique, but because the Motion Picture Production Code prohibited divorces, Rand opted to have Wynand commit suicide instead.[11]

Production design[edit]

Rand's screenplay instructed, "It is the style of Frank Lloyd Wright -- and only of Frank Lloyd Wright -- that must be taken as a model for Roark's buildings. This is extremely important to us, since we must make the audience admire Roark's buildings."[12] According to Warner Bros., once it was known that the film had gone into production, the studio received letters from architects suggesting designs; Wright turned down an offer to work on the film.[12]

The architectural style that Roark advocates, realized in the production designs of Edward Carrere, is closer to the corporate International Style of the East Coast in the late 1940s than it is to Wright's architecture of the Midwest from the 1920s era when Rand's book was written. Therefore, the style is rooted in German, rather than American, modernism. During filming, Rand told Gerald Loeb that she disliked the style, which she felt had resulted from Carrere's lack of experience as a practicing architect. She described his designs as copied from pictures of "horrible modernistic buildings" and judged them as "embarrassingly bad".[12] The film's closing image, depicting Roark standing atop his "tallest structure in the world", arguably evokes futurism.[9]

Music score[edit]

The film's score was composed by Max Steiner. Chris Matthew Sciabarra described Steiner as a "veritable film score architect...perhaps, the 'fountainhead' of film music"[7] and says that Steiner's cues "immediately call to mind the story of Howard Roark".[7]

Philosophy professor Glenn Alexander Magee has offered that the score suggested "a strong affinity for The Fountainhead...[it] perfectly conveys the feel of a Rand novel,"[7] and that Steiner's music accents the story's themes of redemption and renewal, providing insight into Roark's opposition, Francon's sense of life, and Wynand's flaw.[7]

Excerpts from Steiner's score were included in RCA Victor's tribute to the composer, an album featuring the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt that was released on LP in 1973 and reissued on CD.[7]

Release and reception[edit]

Patricia Neal appeared on the television series Hollywood Calling with Milton Berle to discuss their upcoming films, which included The Fountainhead and Berle's Always Leave Them Laughing.[13] For the film's premiere at the Warner Hollywood Theatre, Warner Bros. erected two banks of bleachers on Hollywood Boulevard to accommodate the expected mob of fans.[4] Neal attended the premiere with Kirk Douglas as her date, and the two signed autographs for fans.[13] The Los Angeles Times wrote that the audience "strongly responded to the unusual elements in the production".[4] After the film ended, Neal noticed that many people were avoiding her and turning their faces away, except for Virginia Mayo, who approached Neal and exclaimed "My, weren't you bad!"[4] Cooper felt that he had not delivered the final speech as he should have.[6] Around this time, Cooper and Neal let it be known publicly that they were having an affair, and the public knowledge of their relationship may have somewhat negatively impacted the film's box office.[6]

The Fountainhead grossed $2.1 million, $400,000 less than its production budget.[4]

Sales of Rand's novel increased after the film's release.[6][7] She wrote, "The picture is more faithful to the novel than any other adaptation of a novel that Hollywood has ever produced"[14] and "It was a real triumph."[14] Rand conceded to friend DeWitt Emery that "I can see your point in feeling that Gary Cooper's performance should have been stronger", but concluded, "I would rather see the part underplayed than overdone by some phony-looking ham."[14] In later years, she would state that she "... disliked the movie from beginning to end" and complained about the film's editing, acting and other elements.[3] As a result of the film, Rand said that she not would sell any more of her novels without the right to pick the director and screenwriter and to edit the film.[15]

The Fountainhead was panned by critics upon its initial release. The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "Its characters are downright weird and there is no feeling of self-identification."[4] The Los Angeles Times wrote that the film would not "catch the interest of what is known as the average movie audience -- whoever they may be nowadays".[4] The communist newspaper Daily Worker deemed The Fountainhead to be "an openly fascist movie".[4] Variety called the film "cold, unemotional, loquacious [and] completely devoted to hammering home the theme that man's personal integrity stands above all law".[4][16] John McCarten of The New Yorker deemed the film to be "the most asinine and inept movie that has come out of Hollywood in years".[17] Cue described it as "shoddy, bombastic nonsense".[4] Bosley Crowther, in his review for The New York Times, called the film "wordy, involved and pretentious" and characterized Vidor's work as a "vast succession of turgid scenes".[18]

Box οffice[edit]

According to Warner Bros. records, the film earned $2,179,000 domestically and $807,000 in foreign markets.[1]


In recent years, The Fountainhead has been reappraised and has an overall approval rating of 83% on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.[19] Emanuel Levy described the film as one of the few examples of an adaptation that is better than the book upon which it is based.[20] Dave Kehr wrote "King Vidor turned Ayn Rand's preposterous 'philosophical' novel into one of his finest and most personal films, mainly by pushing the phallic imagery so hard that it surpasses Rand's rightist diatribes."[21] Architect David Rockwell, who saw the film when he visited New York City in 1964, has said that the film influenced his interest in architecture and design and that at his university, many architecture students named their dogs Roark as a tribute to the protagonist of the novel and film.[22]

Various filmmakers have expressed interest in new adaptations of The Fountainhead, although none of these potential films has begun production. In the 1970s, writer-director Michael Cimino wanted to film his own script for United Artists. In 1992, producer James Hill optioned the rights and selected Phil Joanou to direct.[23] In the 2000s, Oliver Stone was interested in directing a new adaptation; Brad Pitt was reportedly under consideration to play Roark.[24] In a March 2016 interview, director Zack Snyder also expressed interest in a new film adaptation.[25]

In February 2020, the film was shown at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival as part of a retrospective dedicated to King Vidor's career.[26]


  1. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 29 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. ^ "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. January 4, 1950. p. 59.
  3. ^ a b Britting, Jeff (2004). Ayn Rand. Overlook Illustrated Lives. New York: Overlook Duckworth. p. 71. ISBN 1-58567-406-0. OCLC 56413971.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Hoberman, J. (2011). "The Ministry of Truth, Justice and the American Way, 1948-50". An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War. The New Press. pp. 96–98. ISBN 978-1-59558-005-4.
  5. ^ a b c d Fishman, Donal (2003). "The Cold War: Three Episodes in Waging a Cinematic Battle". War and film in America: Historical and Critical Essays. McFarland. pp. 46–48. ISBN 0-7864-1673-4.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g The Making of The Fountainhead (DVD). Warner Home Video. 2006. UPC 012569571624.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Sciabarra, Chris Matthew. "The Fountainhead Sings". The Atlas Society. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  8. ^ Toker, Franklin (2003). Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House. Random House Digital. p. 291. ISBN 1-4000-4026-4.
  9. ^ a b McArthur, Collin (1997). "Chinese Boxes and Russian Dolls". In Clarke, David B. (ed.). The Cinematic City. Psychology Press. p. 26.
  10. ^ Gladstein, Mimi Reisel & Sciabarra, Chris Matthew, eds. (1999). Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. Re-reading the Canon. University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press. p. 376. ISBN 0-271-01830-5.
  11. ^ Hayes, David P. (2008). "Howard Roark Rises: The Fountainhead". Archived from the original on January 20, 2013.
  12. ^ a b c Johnson, Donald Leslie (2005). "The Fountainhead's Visual Images". The fountainheads: Wright, Rand, the FBI and Hollywood. McFarland. p. 132. ISBN 0-7864-1958-X.
  13. ^ a b Shearer, Stephen Michael (2006). "London". Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life. University Press of Kentucky. p. 82. ISBN 0-8131-2391-7.
  14. ^ a b c Rand, Ayn (1997). Berliner, Michael S. (ed.). Letters of Ayn Rand. Plume. ISBN 0-452-27404-4.
  15. ^ McConnell, Scott (2010). "Perry Knowlton". 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand. Penguin. p. 262. ISBN 978-0-451-23130-7.
  16. ^ "The Fountainhead". Variety. 1949. Retrieved December 10, 2009.
  17. ^ McCarten, John (July 16, 1949). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 47.
  18. ^ Crowther, Bosley (January 1, 1949). "Gary Cooper Plays an Idealistic Architect in Film Version of The Fountainhead". The New York Times. Retrieved December 10, 2009.
  19. ^ "The Fountainhead". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  20. ^ Levy, Emanuel. "Fountainhead, The (1949)". Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  21. ^ "The Fountainhead". Chicago Reader. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
  22. ^ Hofler, Robert (2009). "The Show People". Variety's "The Movie that Changed My Life": 120 Celebrities Pick the Films that Made a Difference (for Better or Worse). Da Capo Press. p. 163. ISBN 978-0-7867-2100-9.
  23. ^ Oliver, Charles (December 1992). "Who'll Play Roark?". Reason. Retrieved September 20, 2017.
  24. ^ Weiss, Gary (2012). Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 251. ISBN 978-0-312-59073-4. OCLC 740628885.
  25. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (March 17, 2016). "'Batman v. Superman': Married Creative Duo on That R-Rated DVD, Plans for DC Superhero Universe". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 25, 2016.
  26. ^ "Berlinale 2020: Retrospective "King Vidor"". Berlinale. Retrieved February 28, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mayhew, Robert, ed. (2006). Essays on Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7391-1578-2.
  • Merrill Schleier: "Ayn Rand and King Vidor’s Film The Fountainhead: Architectural Modernism, the Gendered Body, and Political Ideology". In: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 61, No 3 (2002), pp. 310–313.
  • Merrill Schleier: Skyscraper Cinema: Architecture and Gender in American Film (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

External links[edit]