Movies with Realtors: The Fountainhead


The Fountainhead (1949) was released by Warner Bros. and is based on author Ayn Rand's literary masterpiece of the same name. The film stars film legend Gary Cooper as headstrong architect Howard Roark, Patricia Neal as idealist Dominique Francon, and Raymond Massey as newspaper magnate Gail Wynand. Directed by King Vidor and scored by Max Steiner, The Fountainhead is a beautiful example of Hollywood at its finest. It illustrates the cut-throat reality of real estate, architecture, and the public's insatiable appetite for tradition and otherwise mundane structures that populate their city and suburban spaces.

A building has integrity, just as a man and just as seldom! It must be true to its own idea, have its own form, and serve its own purpose!

declares struggling architect Howard Roark. The film begins by depicting Roark's undeserved expulsion from university. His dean proclaims him too unique and forward-thinking for the average man's traditional sensibilities and declares that Roark won't amount to much if he sticks to architecture as a profession. Roark's designs are ahead of their time: presenting sleek, unblemished lines and curves on both residential and commercial buildings that any other architect would stick Grecian accents on before calling it a day. The public and the community's builders cannot see past Roark's visionary designs to recognize the greatness and genius that undulates within each one.

fountainhead think

Howard Roark quickly becomes a starving artist because he refuses to adapt his designs to fit the mob's consensus. No one will hire him and anyone who does consider commissioning him for a job attempts to re-work his plans and incorporate more traditional accents and flourishes onto his buildings. Roark stands firm and refuses to alter his designs despite the fact this means that he is kissing his career as a successful architect goodbye. After having gone nearly two years without a single job, Roark is forced to accept a position working in a granite quarry, drilling into vast white sheets of marble to make a living. The work is laborious, tedious, and overwhelmingly exhausting, yet Roark remains stalwart and committed to performing his task to the best of his abilities. Gary Cooper excelled at playing righteous characters with strong, determined backbones and he is completely mesmerizing in the role of Howard Roark in The Fountainhead.

Dominique Francon (Neal) is a woman determined not to become a slave to any man or object. She is flawed, certainly, but her hesitancy to belong to any one person rings true to today's feminists and gender equality seekers. She is just as headstrong and stubborn as Howard Roark is and it's only natural that the two characters are immediately drawn to each other after spotting one another at the granite quarry. The relationship between Howard and Dominique is sultry yet damaged, tender yet violent. Dominique is a spoiled socialite but her one redeeming quality is that she recognizes talent and stays true and loyal to it as she does when she is introduced to Roark's designs and work ethic. Once Roark gets back on his feet again and is commissioned to design a luxury high-rise apartment tower in the city, his modern designs are ridiculed not by the builder who sought Roark out specifically for his architectural prowess, but by the public and their destructive criticism is egged on by one of the city's most prominent newspapers, The Banner, which is owned by Gail Wynand (Massey).

Lambasted by the public, the press, and his fellow architects, Roark perseveres with his modern designs and, once completed, the apartment tower is hailed as being a truly magnificent and original piece of architecture. His critics are silenced — temporarily — and his work quickly gains popularity.

the fountainhead

Unfortunately, any man's (or woman's) climb to the top of his or her profession is rarely an easy one. The way up is paved with rejection, ridicule, dangerous temptations, and ill will — all of this causes Howard Roark, no matter how strong of a constitution he has, to stumble. His pride and his unwillingness to change result in a total professional upheaval and Roark is forced to defend himself in court, risking not only his livelihood but his professional reputation as well. Still, through thick and thin, Dominique Francon remains a constant fixture in Roark's life, defending him to the last and sticking by him in his darkest hour. She has unwittingly become a slave — the very thing she was determined to avoid — and she discovers that there is nowhere she'd rather be than in the arms of Howard Roark.

The Fountainhead is a film full of elitism, pride, vanity, and defeatist attitudes. It is also one of the most beautifully shot classic black and white films I've ever seen! Its cinematography and set design harkens back to the German expressionist masterpiece Metropolis (1927) in which the world is broken into two social classes: the workers and the elite. The Fountainhead's cinematography has an almost film noir quality about it; plenty of smoke, hard edges and clean angles, shadowy spaces, and awesomely cropped longshots. Lightness and darkness fight for screen time here and the victor is a marvellous visual blend of hard and soft modern film celluloid.

fountainhead freedom

The only aspect of the film that I had a slight problem with was the evident lack of chemistry between the two romantic leads (Cooper and Neal). They each portrayed their characters well, but that special, essential spark and fire was missing from the finished version of the film. Perhaps the studio, producers, and director (King Vidor) were well aware of this issue because, though Cooper and Neal were two of the story's major characters, they didn't share a large amount of screen time. Rather, the majority of their scenes were filmed separately.

I don't build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build!

Was architect Howard Roark wrong in thinking that he could establish a successful business for himself without having to bend to the public's traditional and boxed-in ideals? This film beautifully illustrates the struggle between originality and conventional wisdom not only in the world of real estate and architectural design, but in society as a whole as well. We, as a society, are merely comfortable with the things that are familiar to us and are often unwilling to accept change. The Fountainhead does an incredible job of forcing us to re-evaluate our thought processes and open ourselves up to change and modernity in the form of ingenious design.


46 comments on “Movies with Realtors: The Fountainhead

  1. Better movies about men who sacrificed everything for their principles include: A Man For All Seasons; The Citadel; The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell; The Life of Emile Zola;and Tucker. On the other hand, miscasting of Cooper as Roark was on a par with the TV version of Enemy of the People, my favorite Ibsen play, where Steve McQieen (Huh?) was cast as Dr. Stockman! What were they thinking?

  2. Doesn’t surprise me that it received mixed reviews. Wasn’t that around the time when intellectuals engaged in ritual pilgrimages to Stalin-land to proclaim the joys of Communism? (I have seen the future and it works!…idiots).

  3. Ayn Rand and Hollywood. Don’t expect we’ll ever see THAT combination again. I loved the move, but then I love Ayn Rand (yeh, so call me a fascist, sticks and stone, sticks and stones). I agree with Herb, though, Gary Copper wasn’t the right choice for Roark.

  4. A registered architect is the same as an NCARB architect except NCARB is national.
    So I would rop the RA and keep the NCARB. The add some more alphabet soup behind your name.

    I have RA, LA, EIT, MBA and LEED that I can use.

    But I once included the designation LOS after my name on my resume.
    Nobody ever asked what it meant. “Lots of Stuff”. HR people don’t have a sense of humor anyways.

  5. Michael – I share your sentiment about not understanding the appeal except it applies to Rand.

    As for RA and NCARB, I see them as related not redundant. As you know, the services of NCARB are primarily for RAs. However, I can still be the latter and not a member of the former. NCARB is useful when you do work around the country in multiple states. However, I don’t follow how you would say one trumps the other. If there is a hierarchy, I am not aware of it.

  6. Lord of the Rings and Hobbit never held my attention. So I never got far trying to read them.
    I have no idea what their appeal is. But a big cult following.

    Steven: Isn’t RA and NCARB redundant? In fact, doesn’t NCARB trump RA?

  7. Though this quote is in reference to Atlas Shrugged, it still applies. Architects and professionals in general are the teenagers if they subscribe to what she is peddling. “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
    John Rogers
    [Kung Fu Monkey — Ephemera, blog post, March 19, 2009]”

  8. I also read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

    It was a good book. The same sort of inspiring but idealistic stuff.

    Who is John Galt?

  9. I have read the book, seen the movie, loosely based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m now in a position to judge – old enough – my comment just DON’T LET EMOTION RUN AWAY WITH is far removed from reality, which can be much more exciting. Especially when you’ve overcome all sorts of obstacles and have yet produced for your client a stunning building.

  10. Charles:

    Better yet:

    I pledge conformity, to the Oligarchy, of the United States of America
    And to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God if it exists,
    divided by politics, with liberty and justice for the priviledged.

  11. Charles:

    Here is my cynical but more accurate version of the Pledge ::

    I pledge conformity, to the flag of the United States of America.
    And to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God if it exists,
    divided by politics, with liberty and justice for the priviledged.

  12. while Gary Cooper was excellent in the role, I have yet to find a movie that exceeds my impression of the book. Some come close, but none have surpassed.

  13. Ayn Rand is a Libertarian, so she does have a political agenda.

    I am a moderate. My view on Libertarianism is that it is not very practical in a world where there are a lot of people who have to live close together. Libertarianism worked fined when people lived on farms miles away from each other. But if you let people do what they want in places like cities it becomes too chaotic and nasty. Socialism is a dirty word in America, but
    streets, utilities, schools and other public infrastructure are all forms of socialism. Hence, the nothing of the “Great Man Theory” where one super talented individual just walks in and rules is not very inclusive in the scheme of socialism.

    Charles talk about ” freedom” is the rhetoric we are brainwashed with. We are slaves to the American Oligarchy. It might be more capitalist than communist but it the oligarchy within either of these systems that is the root of tyranny, not the systems themselves. In fact, China is kicking America’s butt right now with it’s so called communism bankrolled by capitalism. But not forever.

    For example, I read Michigan just outlawed the electric car company Tesla by way of some sort of dealership law sponsored by the Dealership Association in the Michigan legislature. There is your American freedom.

    Oligarchy is where a few elite rule. That elite can be bureaucrats, plutocrats, clergy, intellectuals, good old boys, or whatever. They don;t have to be communists, capitalists or whatever.

    Rand described this as “the aristocracy of pull”

    I agree with Rand in meritocracy instead. But if it was always about having the best man win there would be no need for politics.

    All this being said we have the ” Great Man” ideal. Pure, beautiful, untouchable. The Greeks, Romans, Michelangelo, create sculpture with that physical ideal. Here Rand tries to render the same in a literary ideal.

    It was inspiring to me as a young man. As an older and wiser(?) man, I understand why they call it fiction and not biography. In fact biography, which has a little more dirt under it’s fingernails, can often be more interesting.

  14. I think Roark’s character could be inspired to Wright as long as it depicts a visionary and innovative architect struggling against design conventions of his time as well as somehow against the “establishment”. There are also some designs in the film (actually created by Edward Carrere, the Paramount scenic designer) that could at least resemble some of Wright’s works (but also some by Mies Vad Der Rohe, to be honest); you can find an interesting selection here: link to For sure Roark is not totally inspired to F.L.W. and both Wright and Ayn Rand, the original novel author, always denied a connection; nevertheless I deem that some elements of Wright personality and history could have inspired, maybe indirectly, the main character of the film.

  15. I saw it at least three times; although the authors denied it, t’s hard to don’t see F.L.Wright as an inspiration for the main character and despite it being a bit apologetic I always see this film with great pleasure (and hey..that was Hollywood’s golden age!)

  16. I’ve seen it; it’s-eh- (shrugs) it’s a bit frustrating, but I think it’s just not a well-written film. It’s not bad, it’s just much more simplistic than it should be. I mean, basically, Cooper’s character is supposedly such a great architect, that if anybody changes his vision- which by the way, is usually a bit fantasy to begin with, that’s not really how architects work, usually they either pitch an idea and it’s accepted or passed, within the given guidelines, it’s not something that’s change afterwards, they would usually find another architect if they don’t like something, but he’s willing to kill and destroy for it,- I didn’t quite get it. Visionary of art is one thing, but art is sometimes collaborative, film for instance. It’s a bit heavy-handed but entertaining while you’re watching it, but you think back on it, it doesn’t hold up afterwards.

  17. The book was better than the film, although they made the actors recite the lines from the book verbatim which sounded un natural in a film.

    I was seduced by the Fountainhead although I never saw Rourke’s uncompromising ways as being realistic. I never had the stones to be that way even if it could be done. In today’s political climate I don’t see how it could be done. You need to find the 1% or the 1% of the 1% that will treat an architect like an artist rather than a servant to their preconceptions.

  18. @Julie
    True that, very much..
    What i do is dig deeper into the older ones for brighter experience. Very few orginals surface into the market..
    Haha.. Yu kno how they say “kids these days”.. Swap ‘kids’ with ‘movies’.. Makes sense for us. 

  19. Hi Sam,
    Please let me say I’m a fan of Ms, Rand from the point of her illustrative writing ability.
    You give a better definition of what I meant by practical.The morality of freedom and slavery
    are reaching values for anyone to evaluate.I would find it amazing that someone would co-opt any agenda from a story,to know the difference between fact and fiction.

  20. heard about the film but havent seen it yet, what grabs my attention is that both Cooper and Patricia Neal are in it

  21. I’d advise caution when delving into Ayn Rand’s work. My opinion is that the philosophical underpinnings are sketchy at best and have been co-opted by people with their own agendas. The moral implications of her reasoning are also far reaching and not particularly pleasant.

  22. I appreciate the message but it was pretty heavy handed and made the characters out to be cartoonish villains. Not a bad movie even if I don’t agree 100% with its ideals. 

    1. Yeah it wasn’t a bad movie, I just don’t see things as cut and dry as Ayn Rand and this movie would have you believe. 

    1. @shakchat thapa
      Not a bad idea but I think that there’s a huge chance that the result would be a cliché at best. There aren’t many directors that could pull off this kind of drama.

    2. I strongly concur.
      Which brings us to a conclusion…
      That we shud just sit back and enjoy the olden golden, for most of the new movies are almost stupid and representing more stupidity.
      Do take care : )

    3. @shakchat thapa
      Although, however low-quality might the outcome be, there is a big chance that Hollywood will do it anyway, since it’s obsession with remakes in last decades. 80% of the big blockbusters that we’re in the theatres for the last years are either remakes of older movies, remakes of European or Asian cinematography, sequels, prequels or adaptations of books/comicbooks or whatever.

  23. I haven’t seen the movie yet but am currently reading the book. So far I have found it quite inspiring and fascinating.

  24. Hi Julie,
    I have watched this movie many times and have read a few Ayn Rand books.
    Her thinking is ,however not practical but does give hope to mankind about freedom.
    So when you think and take for granted our freedoms ,think of those in China who
    wished they had it.

  25. I love watching this movie. It has 4 really strong characters with really strong opinions and convictions and weaknesses, and I love watch them spout their philosophies and interact with each other. I can’t identify with any of them, and I’m really glad that I don’t have their problems or live in their world, but I still love watching them!

  26. I think the struggle is clearly shown. My favorite scene is Roark’s amazing defense in court. This is the longest speech Coop ever made and he is great in it. But it still makes no sense whatsoever! (too me, at least) I love this film and disagree with the message (the virtue of universal selfishness and the foolishness of sacrifice for the greater good.) It is so interesting that this is just 4 years after the close of WW2 when so much sacrifice by so many was needed to save the world. It is true that the artist must prioritize his/her art but this focus is itself a sacrifice. For a better treatment of this theme, I suggest the “Asher Lev” books by Chaim Potok. My Name Is Asher Lev link to and The Gift of Asher Lev link to TF speaks of art from an atheistic point view while the Asher Lev books present art from a theistic (Jewish) point of view. Important difference.

    1. @Steve Phifer
      Thanks for your opinion, Steve. I’ve heard that the book the movie is based on is much more complex and the movie only touches the surface of it despite fact that the author (Ayn Rand) wrote the script herself. Have you read it by any chance?

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