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The Fountainhead [Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey]

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The Fountainhead (1949) starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Kent Smith
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The Fountainhead (1949) starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, Raymond Massey, Kent Smith, Robert Douglas

In The Fountainhead, Academy Award winners Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal star in this adaptation of Ayn Rand’s groundbreaking novel. It’s about an architect who refuses to compromise or accept the status quo. And he’ll sacrifice anything to preserve the integrity of his work.


The Fountainhead is a compelling, interesting — and strange — movie. It’s based on Ayn Rand’s novel of the same name. At it’s heart, is the struggle between individualism and conformity.

The creator stands on his own judgment. The parasite follows the opinions of others. The creator thinks, the parasite copies. The creator produces, the parasite loots. The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature – the parasite’s concern is the conquest of men. The creator requires independence, he neither serves nor rules. He deals with men by free exchange and voluntary choice. The parasite seeks power, he wants to bind all men together in common action and common slavery. He claims that man is only a tool for the use of others.

That he must think as they think, act as they act, and live is selfless, joyless servitude to any need but his own. Look at history. Everything thing we have, every great achievement has come from the independent work of some independent mind. Every horror and destruction came from attempts to force men into a herd of brainless, soulless robots. Without personal rights, without personal ambition, without will, hope, or dignity. It is an ancient conflict. It has another name: the individual against the collective.

Howard Roark

“Does a man have a right to exist if he refuses to serve society?”

Central confflict

Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal

That’s the central conflict of The Fountainhead. Does the creator have a right to his creation? How far does that go? And there’s several subplots as well.

  • The romantic triangle.
  • The publisher’s quest to get behind a crusade that he actually believes in.
  • Dominique’s battle with herself. Will she ever allow herself to love anyone or anything?

Cast of characters

Main characters

  • Gary Cooper (Sergeant York) as Howard Roark. The uncompromising architect. He’s determined to make great works — his way. He has no character growth throughout the movie. Why? Because the author thinks he’s right. But, he’s the catalyst for other characters to change and grow.
  • Patricia Neal (The Day the Earth Stood Still) as Dominique Francon. A rich man’s daughter, who writes about architecture for “The Banner”. She refuses to be in love with anyone, or anything. She’s determined to be free. Until she begins falling for Roarke.
  • Raymond Massey (Abe Lincoln in Illinois) as Gail Wynand. The publisher of “The Banner”. A muckracking, yellow journalism, rag. And it made him a fortune. His is literally a rags to riches story. He loves, and marries, Dominique. Although she doesn’t return his feelings. He’s convinced that she can learn to love him. Towards the end, he has “The Banner” do a crusade. One that he truly believes in … For the first time. And it nearly destroys his business. Then, he has a moment of weakness …

Supporting characters

  • Kent Smith (Cat People) as Peter Keating. The weak-willed architect. He’s pushed around easily … By Dominique’s father, Gail, and everybody else. Then, he caves into pressure on the building that Roark’s designed for him. Roark’s only price: no changes to his design. This leads to the destruction of the building, and Roark’s trial.
  • Robert Douglas (Tarzan the Ape Man) as Ellsworth M. Toohey. The architecture critic for The Banner. He opposes Roark’s individualism on principle. So, Toohey volunteers to lead a print crusade against him — which Gail pays little attention to. The true villain of the movie.
  • Henry Hull (Werewolf of London) as Henry Cameron. Roark’s friend and patron, who views modern construction as “like Greek temples, Gothic cathedrals, and mongrels of every ancient style they could borrow”. Clearly, he influences Roark’s world view.

Editorial review of The Fountainhead courtesy of

Exhibiting a darker edge to his hero persona, the strapping Gary Cooper has the (Frank Lloyd) Wright stuff as architect Harold Roark, a “fool visionary” who refuses to conform his artistic ideas to popular taste. His inflexibility makes enemies out of a tabloid architecture critic and a tycoon (Raymond Massey), who proclaims, “All men can be bought… there are no men of integrity.” Keating (Kent Smith), a former classmate, urges Roark to take “the middle of the road so it’s sure to please everybody.”

But Roark will not compromise, and when one of his building designs is radically altered without his consent, he resorts to drastic measures. Adapted for the screen by Ayn Rand from her towering and controversial bestseller, The Fountainhead is about as subtle as that phallic drill Roark wields so impressively, which catches the frenzied eye of the formidable Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal in her film debut). She recognizes Roark’s nobility, but fears he has no chance “in a world where beauty, genius and greatness have no chance.” Rand did little to dilute her polemics for the screen, resulting in melodramatic scenes that border on high camp, such as Roark and Francon’s rather sexually charged discussion about limestone.

Rand practiced what she preached. According to a bonus featurette about the making of the film, she refused to trim Roark’s then-unprecedented six-minute courtroom speech in which he defends his actions. Even for those who don’t adhere to her philosophy, The Fountainhead does offer something rarely seen on screens these days, a man of unshakable principles. And Hollywood could sure note Rand’s object lesson about the perils of mediocrity and catering to “the mob.” For Cooper fans, The Fountainhead is an essential addition to your DVD library. –Donald Liebenson

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