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This Week on TCM
January 19, 2008

Some notes about what’s showing this week on Turner Classic Movies.

The Fountainhead cover
The Fountainhead
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The Fountainhead (Sunday, 1/20, 10:00 AM ET, 1949) — I am never ever going to read anything by Ayn Rand (I learned everything I wanted to know about her when Action Philosophers wrote her up), so this seems like an easy way to figure out why people still love or hate her work. Especially with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. Heck, I’m entertained just reading the incredibly diverse reader reviews of this movie, and I haven’t even seen it yet.

Indiscreet cover
Indiscreet
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Indiscreet (Sunday, 1/20, 2:15 PM ET, 1958) — Oh, glorious. I like this movie. A mature Cary Grant (starting to grey) tells Ingrid Bergman (playing a famous actress, not a stretch) he’s married when he isn’t because he doesn’t want to be tied down. Then they fall in love. It’s a hoary old device now, but somehow it suits watching those two in beautiful clothes and settings and sophisticated luxury. From an age when kids wanted to be grown-up so they could dream of someday being that elegant. (As opposed to today, when everyone’s chasing teen fashion and celebrity.)

The 39 Steps cover
The 39 Steps
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The 39 Steps (Tuesday, 1/22, 7:30 AM ET, 1935) — I’ve never seen this Hitchcock classic (and I didn’t realize it was quite that old), so I figured it was about time. All I know about it is that Remington Steele did an episode based on it, about getting handcuffed together while being pursued across the countryside. Although I don’t think Hitchcock’s hero had amnesia at the time. (Strangely, although Steele couldn’t remember any of his various names, he remembered this movie. Gotta love Hollywood. Its products have the most powerful effects.)

The Talk of the Town (Wednesday, 1/23, 12:45 PM ET) — If you didn’t watch this after I recommended it last week, you missed out. It was great fun and worth watching. (Look for a very young Lloyd Bridges as a newspaperman.)

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12 Responses  
Dave writes:  

“I am never ever going to read anything by Ayn Rand … so this seems like an easy way to figure out why people still love or hate her work.”

Not so fast.

I don’t want to get into a debate on the relative merits of her work here or now, except to note that I read The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and a couple of others when I was 17-18 and they were very influential to me at the time. But today, as a Christian, I completely reject Rand’s atheist philosophy and as a conservative, you and I, Johanna, are never going to agree on much outside a small subset of comics and movies anyway.

Anyway…

I rented the movie about 20 years ago, eager to see Howard Roark brought to life. It’s pretty bad. I think Rand wrote the screenplay and most of the dialogue is lifted verbatim from the book but it’s lifeless, and so abridged as to make almost no sense. The performances are fine given what the actors had to work with but your motive, as stated above, for watching will be thwarted.

Most Stephen King fans (I am not one) will tell you that the movie versions of his books stink and you shouldn’t form your opinion of him from, say, the movie of “Christine.” Same holds true here.

 
Ed Sizemore writes:  

Dave, I haven’t read Any Rand, but I did enjoy The Fountianhead movie. I admit it’s not for everyone. It’s very talky and most of the dialogue is philosophy heavy. I also think most the of dialogue comes across as very pretentious and self-righteous.

I’m the kind of people who loved watching Booknotes. So Johanna, if you enjoy watching Booknotes, or enjoy watching people give lectures on topics your unfamiliar with, then you will enjoy the film. If you’re looking for a compelling story and a well written plot, then this movie will leave you heavily dissatisfied. Dave’s right, the acting is stiff. But the given the material they were working with, I think did an excellent job breathing what life they could in it.

 
David Oakes writes:  

I will also agree that the movie is not the book. But “what life they could” in this case does not mean “They were hampred by a screenplay that did not understand the original writer’s genius”, but exactly that: They gave the material their best shot, and whatever life and feeling it has comes entirely from Cooper and nothing from Rand.

 
Johanna writes:  

That’s certainly all very helpful in keeping the film in context. It’s odd, isn’t it, that Rand adapted her own novel so clumsily?

 
Lyle writes:  

I tried reading Atlas Shrugged and I think I made it only a third of the way through. I thought Rand made her arguments in a patronizing way, using fiction to create strawmen.

That said, I’m curious about The Fountainhead because of what (I hear)Rand says about architecture.

 
Dave writes:  

“It’s odd, isn’t it, that Rand adapted her own novel so clumsily?”

Odd? Not really. Writing novels and writing for film are two different things and what works in one form doesn’t necessarily work in another. Specifically, there are a lot of long monologues in the book that would grind any film to a halt – and in this case, that’s exactly what happens a couple of times. You don’t notice it so much in the book but it’s death on the screen. (Caveat: I’ll remind you that it’s been more than 20 years since I’ve read or watched either.)

Kind of reminds me of all the attempts a few years ago to give certain comics a “widescreen” or “cinematic” quality, and the subsequent, predictable “comics aren’t movies!” backlash. So it goes…

Lyle’s observation regarding the manner in which Rand makes her points is not undeserved. But Rand never would have found an audience had she merely published a manifesto. You have to give her credit for hitching her philosophy to a compelling story with the result that, whether you agree with Rand or not, people are still talking about it right now.

As for Rand’s views on architecture, she presents a strong argument for creating something new, rather than merely cobbling together a pastiche of what has gone before – one that might well be applied in any creative field, including comics. Not sure how well that comes across in the movie, however.

 
Favela Cranshaw writes:  

Johanna,
Someday, someone will figure out a way to turn Ayn Rand’s fiction into comic books. Maybe then you’ll be able to understand her ideas.

 
Dave writes:  

Um….

Wow.

Favela, that really wasn’t called for, was it?

 
Alan Coil writes:  

Mentioning Rand always leads to chaos. I read Atlas Shrugged because I thought it was an important book. It isn’t. It’s merely a treatise on Objectivism. I could have gotten that from an academic paper, and probably with more pleasure. Rand is not a good writer.

Googled favela. Seems her entire existence is filled with attacks on those who oppose Rand. Ho hum.

 
Johanna writes:  

The weird part is: I’m not attacking Rand. I’m just saying, I’m not planning to ever read one of the books. I’m not that interested, and I have many many other ways I’d rather spend my time. The same thing goes for Shakespeare these days. :)

And trying to be insulting by implying that comics are for the stupid… well, this is the very wrong place and audience to do THAT! Dumb dumb dumb.

 
Dave "The Knave" White writes:  

“Someday, someone will figure out a way to turn Ayn Rand’s fiction into comic books. Maybe then you’ll be able to understand her ideas.”

Isn’t that what Steve Ditko’s been doing for the last 20 years?

 
Bill D. writes:  

For me, the most entertaining part of the movie version of The Fountainhead was how it summed up the first 200-300 pages of the book in the first minute or two of the movie. That right there is some efficient adaptation!

 
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