DVD Review HTF REVIEW: The Fountainhead (RECOMMENDED).

Herb Kane

May 7, 2001

The Fountainhead

Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1949
Genre: Drama
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 112 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
Audio: DD Monaural
Color/B&W: B&W
Languages: English & French
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $19.97

The Feature:
Though he made more than 90 films, Warner Home Video just released five of them in a set honoring his work; Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection. Included in the collection are: Sergeant York (1941) – as a Two-Disc Special Edition, Springfield Rifle (1952), Dallas (1950), The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) and the featured film, The Fountainhead (1949). While Sergeant York and The Fountainhead are available individually ($26.99 and $19.97 respectively), the remainder of titles are exclusive to the collection (which lists for $49.92).

Howard Roark (played by Gary Cooper) is the title character, an architect of unusual talent – with a futuristic vision. While Roark’s peers and associates bask in commercial success, their projects are nothing more than common and usual designs – and Roark will have none of it. The visionary is unwavering and uncompromising in remaining true to his designs and his beliefs. He turns down many lucrative deals; decisions which leave the young architect virtually penniless. Along the way, Roark crosses paths with a young but troubled love interest, Dominique Francon (played by Patricia Neal). Neal’s performance is exceptionally provocative as her troubled character (with plenty of sexual innuendo) seems to be a perfect contrast for the stiff and somewhat rigid character of Cooper’s Roark.

As a man who was determined to crush Roark for the sake of selling newspapers, publisher Gail Wynand (played by Raymond Massey) turns in a stellar performance as the smug, opportunistic industrialist who is all too willing to bury an individual for the sake of a penny. As the three become connected and intertwined, the film unfolds tightly as each of them go through various personal examinations of their own character and eventually transform into a world that’s decent – all the while, staying true to their own convictions.

Penned by Ayn Rand and based on her novel of the same name, she reveals the life of an uncompromising architect to engage a strange and varied examination of one’s “integrity” on what seems to be a wafer thin platform. It’s anything but, wafer thin. Directed by King Vidor, as the film progresses, we eventually get to see beautiful creations of various buildings - all of which fit perfectly into the stylistic mood of the film.

Cooper possessed a strong but silent quality which made him a perfect fit for many of the leading roles he carried in such films as Beau Geste (1939), Meet John Doe (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), High Noon (1952) among many others. He started his career at “The Mountain” but left Paramount in the late 30’s to sign on with Samuel Goldwin. He would eventually go on to win two Academy Awards (one for Sergeant York, the other for High Noon). He was also awarded an honorary Oscar in 1961 for his many memorable screen performances and international acclaim. Almost a half century later, he remains one of the most celebrated and recognized Hollywood stars and sits high atop the American Film Institute’s list of the 50 Greatest Screen Legends holding spot number 11.

The Feature: 4/5

Presented in a standard AR of 1.33:1, this B&W transfer is one of the nicest WB new release efforts I’ve seen in some time. Gorgeously displaying deep blacks and ultra crisp whites, the vast grayscale is the standout here. The image is velvety smooth displaying only a slight amount of fine film grain providing a beautifully textured image with plenty of depth. Contrast and shadow levels were also perfect looking. The overall photography is also worthy of special mention here as many of the shots (displaying fantastic shadows and peculiar angles), lend to the effect of the film and its subject matter.

There is a terrific amount of image detail – not only on facial close-ups, but on longer and wider shots. The overall image is exceptionally clean and one has to assume the elements used here were in fantastic shape - barely a mark or blemish was noticeable.

A superb looking transfer – great job…!

Video: 4.5/5

Just as I was pleased with the video presentation, I was just as pleased (impressed, in fact) with the audio presentation. Encoded as a DD monaural mix, this does everything we’d expect of a 60 year old track – and then some. There’s even plenty to boast about here in terms of heft and punch as we hear some of the explosions which take place at the quarry.

The track is very clean and free of any hiss or other distracting noises – yet always sounding natural and uncompressed. Dialogue was also very bold and intelligible. A Max Steiner score is the audio highlight as the fitting but syrupy score which certainly adds to the overall flavor of the film – all of which comes across beautifully. A perfect example of mono done right.

Audio: 4.5/5

Special Features:
Not a lot here in terms of numbers but a couple of goodies include:

The Making of The Fountainhead is a newly made documentary which talks about various facets of the production; the writing of Ayn Rand, the selection of Cooper as the star (or his proposal to the studio to be more accurate), the photography, the score as well as the eventual affair that resulted between Cooper and Neal. It’s interesting to learn of Rand’s integrity in how she refused to budge much like her penned character, Howard Roark in the film.

The only other feature is the Theatrical Trailer which is in pretty decent shape.

Special Features: 2/5

**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

Final Thoughts:
On the surface, The Fountainhead looks like just another ’40ish (melo)drama about a futuristic architect and his on again-off again relationship with the spoiled young Neal as his curio. But scratch a bit deeper, and “integrity” is the main ingredient showcasing all the leads and their various brushes with it. The film has many strong points, none greater than “Coop’s” performance as the stoic, yet uncompromising Roark which fits perfectly into the theme and structure of the film. Simply put, The Fountainhead is a decidedly stylish film which has an awful lot to say.

Though the disc might be a little short on features, this is one of Warner’s finest B&W releases in some time. The presentation from start to finish is excellent and fans of Cooper should be thoroughly impressed. In fact from a quick glance, from what I’ve seen thus far, the entire set looks mighty impressive. An outstanding film with an excellent presentation easily earns my recommendation.

Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)


Release Date: November 7th, 2006

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