Based on the novel by philosopher Ayn Rand, this is the story of architect Howard Roark. An idealist, Roark believes he can balance his values with the needs of society. His mentor disagrees - encouraging him to compromise his integrity rather than suffer for his artistic goals.
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