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Friday, September 3, 2010

THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949)

King Vidor’s unhappy film version of Ayn Rand’s bestselling novel has always been something of a camp classic. Even in ‘49, Rand’s dialogue was too ripe for its own good and Vidor’s try at an expressionistic tone fails to convince. The famous story, about an architect who refuses to compromise, comes off as self-justifying nonsense (especially in a post-9/11 world) as Rand sets up strawmen for her architect to quash and a glamorous bitch to tame. But the current DVD edition is worth a look if only for a ‘Making Of’ featurette made with Rand’s ‘objectivism’ blinders firmly in place. You’d never know from watching it that Rand’s film career stalled here. Or that the best Rand film was made without her help in Fascist Italy! (WE THE LIVING/’42) You’d certainly never know that King Vidor’s THE CITADEL/’38 also has a hero who sets off bombs to make his point. Or that Vidor’s career was seriously damaged when this film flopped. No mention that Gary Cooper, after two decades at the top of the Hollywood heap, began a six-film slump here. (HIGH NOON/’52 turned things around.) Or that debuting Patricia Neal grimly served out her Warners contract (with a single happy loan-out for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL/’51) then left Hollywood for five years. And many more topsy-turvy viewpoints. Yet, the single participant who did get a big career bump out of THE FOUNTAINHEAD goes unmentioned. It was Robert Burks whose stylish lensing was noticed by Alfred Hitchcock. They made a dozen classics together beginning with Hitch’s next Hollywood production, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN/’51.

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