The Fountainhead 1949 Based on the novel by Ayn Rand. Directed by King Vidor. Socialite architecture critic Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal) first sees Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) doing manual labor at a quarry near her country house. An uncompromising architect, he needs the job. You can practically see her salivate. (As will you.) She concocts an unnecessary home repair. Her pretense and imperiousness make Roark angry. There’s a slap and a kiss. Fireworks.
Dominique is engaged to pedestrian architect Peter Keating (Kent Smith) whom she can barely tolerate and is pursued by NY Banner publishing magnate Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey). Roark finally gets a worthy commission. Dominique is among a minority aware of his talent. She offers to marry him if he gives up his craft in order that he be spared inevitable public rejection. He won’t, of course. She then agrees to wed Wynard who hires Roark to build them a house in the country. (Shades of “The Forsyte Saga.”)
Roark unwittingly gets involved in an unsafe structure he can’t tolerate and takes matters into his own hands. There’s a trial. Guilt, anger, and suicide follow. Creative independence prevails. Ayn Rand was poster girl for the conflict between individualism and collectivism. Barbara Stanwyk asked Jack L. Warner to buy the rights for her and quit the studio when she found out she wasn’t cast. Cooper criticized Neal’s audition then began an affair with her. Though Stanwyk would’ve been more desirable. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Return to Paradise 1953 Based on the short story “Mr. Morgan” in the collection Return to Paradise by James Mitchner. Directed by Mark Robson. 1920s The South Pacific. Everyone on the island of Matariva is native Polynesian except Pastor Cobbett (Barry Jones), a self-righteous despot who rules with threat of fire, brimstone, and a group of “wardens.” Music and dancing are banned. Young coupling is a sin. There’s curfew. People forced to attend church are marched in two straight files. Nothing is as adults remember fondly.
Onto the shore steps itinerant Mr. Morgan (Gary Cooper) who wants nothing more than to be left alone. “White men are not welcome!” Corbett declares,” you will leave tomorrow.” The visitor is not about to “obey” and much to the glee of the crowd, fights the pastor’s thugs. A friendly local offers a sleeping mat and materials to build a hut. Corbett has his men pull it down. Only Maeva (Roberta Haynes) steps forward to help rebuild. That night the head warden beats her. Morgan lays him flat the next day.
Told he should have a mate, he refuses. Asked that he lead a rebellion, he says it’s every man for himself. Both happen organically over time. Morgan repairs an abandoned sailboat and grows short tempered. Ties that bind are insidious…until tragedy occurs. Years later… The production was filmed entirely on a Polynesian island. Supporting cast are natives. Cooper is gorgeous – though The Fountainhead still wins the pin-up prize. The story would be more credible if we had some idea what the hero was running from. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Friendly Persuasion 1956 Adapted from the novel The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West. Directed by William Wyler. Set among Quakers in Southern Indiana during The Civil War, the film centers on the Birdwell family: husband Jess (Gary Cooper), his wife Eliza, a minister (Dorothy McGuire), daughter Mattie (Phyllis Love), elder and younger sons Josh (Anthony Perkins) and “Little” Jess (Richard Eyer).
When their church meeting is interrupted by a Union officer who can’t comprehend the community has no intention of raising arms against encroaching Confederate Army, pacifism vs. perceived cowardice becomes the central theme. Every man and woman must face themselves and their neighbors.
Cooper felt his public was accustomed to seeing him in action roles and objected to Jess’s never raising a hand. “There comes a time in a picture of mine when the people watching expect me to do something,” he said. “You will furnish your public with the refreshing picture of a strong man refraining,” West responded. A slice of real Americana with an important question wrapped in innate sweetness. Less is more. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Love in the Afternoon 1957 Based on the Claude Anet novel “Ariane, jeune fille russe” (Ariane, Young Russian Girl). Directed by Billy Wilder. Completely enchanting. Widowed private detective Claude Chavasse (Maurice Chevalier) specializes in tracking unfaithful husbands and wives. His daughter Ariane (Audrey Hepburn) is more than a little conversant with papa’s files. The infamous subject of his latest client’s complaint, American Frank Flanagan (Gary Cooper), seems particularly exciting. When Ariane overhears the client threaten to shoot his wife and Flanagan, she rushes out of cello rehearsal and warns him just in time.
Ariane then becomes a woman of mystery to the playboy businessman many years her senior. She makes up provocative stories of endless lovers. He’s increasingly, maddeningly attracted to her, and knows better, but…With a pitch-perfect John McGiver as a suspicious, cuckolded husband. Both Yul Brynner and Cary Grant were first offered the role of Flanagan. Wilder chose Cooper because he thought the actor would be good company on location. He was. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Cooper and Hemingway: The True Gen (an expression Hemingway used to distinguish truth from rumor) 2013 documentary about the deep 20 year friendship of two icons. Written and directed by John Mulholland. Highly recommended. That quiet, nothing-to-prove, conservative Cooper and verbal, macho, liberal Hemingway should bond affecting one another in ways no one else could, is something to hear about and observe.
Hemingway’s approach to writing and Cooper’s to acting is adroitly paralleled. We hear from friends, peers, academics, film historians, the friends’ children, and Papa himself (through letters). Both men were raised when there was nostalgia for simple truths, when Theodore Roosevelt said, “Escape, test yourself, lead a masculine life.” Hemingway’s adherence to this credo is famous. Meanwhile Coop learned to ride, rope, and shoot growing up on a ranch.
Hemingway was a burgeoning scrivener in Paris while Cooper earned money as a stunt man to pay for art school in Chicago. Wings made Hollywood sit up and notice. The Sun Also Rises turned heads towards Hemingway. The two expressed a desire to meet. Hemingway was known for testing people, Cooper always passed. Neither escaped the other’s wit. Both were well read. Both submitted to celebrity requirements. It amused Cooper to sometimes write a small check for services knowing it would never be cashed.
When one man was depressed or later ill, the other showed up. Hemingway went through several wives while Cooper had multiple affairs and almost left his longtime mate for Patricia Neal, then 22. The only thing its author liked about 1932’s film of A Farewell to Arms (rent on Amazon Prime) was Cooper. For Whom the Bell Tolls (rent on Amazon Prime) garnered somewhat better opinion. None of the wives were shrinking violets. Affection and respect are palpable. A terrific film.
Photo credit: Gary Cooper The Fountainhead 1949 – Wikimedia Commons /Warner Bros. / Public domain