The Fountainhead …of bad acting

I finished Ayne Rand’s The Fountainhead a few days ago. Reading the book didn’t change my life, though, so I can only conclude that I didn’t do it right. I checked all my paradigms when I was finished and not a one of them had shifted around. I do, however, know that if I go back in time and want to hit it off with Rand during one of her Super Genius Cocktail Hour Gatherings, all I have to do is elbow her in the ribs and say “Boy, how about that collectivism, eh? Sure does suck. Am I right or what?”

But don’t get the wrong impression. I did really like the book and plan on reading Atlas Shrugged next. Rand hooked me by supplying foils without villains and complex characters worth wondering about. Well, except the main character, who was shallow and boring after you “got him” in the first fifty pages. But the rest of the cast had complex motivations, backgrounds, and characters. Their lives were woven together deftly, and they played off each other in ways more sophisticated than you usually see in today’s genre fiction or best sellers. It’s as refreshing as it is challenging.

That’s why I was so disappointed by the 1949 movie after I told TiVo to record it for me. It’s shockingly bad, in every way. Bad acting, bad music, bad pacing, bad scripting. That last one is kind of surprising, since Rand herself wrote the script. There are lines in the movie that are lifted straight out of the book, and I remember those lines as being brilliant in print, but the movie is paced at such a breakneck speed and acted so poorly that the whole thing sounds more like a stilted rendition by 8th graders instead of professional actors.

And the music. Oh, the music is so melodramatic and over the top we couldn’t stop laughing about it. It’s like the soundtrack is a separate character in and of itself, always hamming it up and trying to steal every single scene. There’s one part where Gary Cooper’s Howard Roark is reading a telegram and the soundtrack is stomping all over the scene, with strings and horns swelling to a feverish crescendo as Cooper just stands there.

(Incidentally, I can’t even write “Gary Cooper” without thinking of that scene in Young Frankenstein where the monster bellows “SNOOPER DOOPER!” and dances around with a top hat and cane. Now that was a great old movie.)

So, to recap: Great book, terrible movie. Ger has a theory that movies were just “different” back then, held to different standards and created for different tastes. Personally, I think suck is as suck does.

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4 thoughts on “The Fountainhead …of bad acting

  1. Jamie,
    I think you’ll really like Atlas Shrugged, maybe even more than The Fountainhead. I read it and then listened to the unabridged audio book. I got a lot out of the tape that I did not catch while reading the book. I think because I listened to the tapes over a 3 day period where as it took me about a month go get through the book.

  2. THREE days for the unabridged audio of Atlas Shrugged? It’s fifty six hours long according to! When did you sleep?

  3. I finished reading Fountainhead again a few months ago. It’s a good read, as you said, but I’m just not able to empathize with Roark the way I can with Dagny or Rearden in Atlas Shrugged. I hadn’t realized it until you said it, but he is totally one dimensional – shallow is almost the perfect word to describe him.
    John Galt, the Roark equivalent in Atlas Shrugged, is infinitely more human and struggles with passion vs. principles. Principles win, of course, but you see the struggle and I believe that’s ultimately why the book is so strong. Only the villains are perfect – the heroes are just like you and me, which gives us hope.
    You’ll love Atlas Shrugged and it SHOULD, if not shift your paradigms, at least make you think about them.
    I guess you have to go into it with that mindset, though. It’s certainly possible to read it as a story about two tycoons who hump a lot.

  4. Atlas Shrugged is about humping tycoons? Why didn’t anyone tell me that sooner?
    Interesting that the villains in Atlas Shrugged are the perfect ones while the heroes are imperfect. It’s almost reversed in The Fountainhead. Roark is a caricature of Rand’s ideal man, not a person. So is Dominique, to a lesser extent. But the “bad guys” like Toohey, Wynand, and Keating were much deeper with more interesting motivations. Wynand and Keating even have –gasp– character arcs!
    The movie version of Toohey, by the way, looked like an evil version of the Monopoly Man. All he did was smoke from one of those long-stemmed filters and adjust his monacle while devising evil plots. I always expected him to burst out into maniacal laughter.

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