Fountainhead [1949]

Director: King Vidor
Stars: Gary Cooper, Raymond Massey, Patricia Neal
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 112 minutes

Springfield Rifle, one of five films included in this set, may miss the bullseye as a true Gary Cooper classic, but there's a line that speaks to his enduring status as a screen icon and "American Legend." In this 1952 Western, his follow-up film to High Noon, Cooper's character has been drummed out of the army and branded a coward. Suffice to say that all is not what it seems, and an observer is asked how Coop will handle the pressure. The response: "He'll stand up." That is quintessential Cooper. He's a stand-up guy, and the "dang swangest hero," as he is hailed in Sergeant York, this collection's calling card. Directed by Howard Hawks and co-written by John Huston, Sergeant York earned Cooper an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Alvin York, a Tennessee mountain hellraiser who finds religion after surviving a lightning strike. His newfound pacifist beliefs are put to the supreme test when he is forced to enlist in WWI. Cooper also displays the (Frank Lloyd) Wright stuff as architect Harold Roark in The Fountainhead (1949), adapted for the screen by Ayn Rand from her towering and controversial bestselling novel about a "fool visionary" who refuses to compromise his principles or conform his work to popular taste. The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), his penultimate film, finds Cooper desperately trying to clear his name before an inquiry determines what really happened aboard the mysteriously abandoned eponymous ship. Costar Charlton Heston gives him a run for Most Piercing Blue Eyes honors. Last, and least, but still entertaining, is Dallas (1950), in which Cooper stars as a Confederate outlaw who impersonates a sheriff to settle an old score. Cooper is not the most chameleon-esque of actors, but in these representative films, he displays intriguing shadings to his heroic persona. Roark in The Fountainhead has a definite dark side, while his "Reb" Hollister in Dallas is something of a rascal. Of the DVD presentations, Sergeant York gets the two-disc "Special Edition" treatment, with dry, but informative commentary by film historian Jeanne Basinger, a made-for-cable TV special about Cooper hosted by Clint Eastwood, and a welcome Warner Bros. cartoon, Tex Avery's "Porky's Preview" and short subject, "Lions for Sale," that replicate an old fashioned night out at the movies. The Fountainhead DVD includes a featurette about the making of the film. Cooper stands alone among Hollywood's leading men, but beyond his formidable presence, classic film buffs will bask in the nostalgic pleasures of Max Steiner's music in four of the five films, and appearances by great character actors (Walter Brennan and George Tobias in Sergeant York, a young Richard Harris in Mary Deare). --Donald Liebenson

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