Its is not everyday that you watch a 1949 Hollywood flick - but when it is based on the famed novel - 'The Foutainhead' - the period of the movie doesn't matter; the story of Howard Roark is as fresh and as inspiring today as it was 70 years ago.
But watching a 1949 hollywood movie makes you remember those 'Black & White' cinemas we used to watch on Doordarshan in our childhood - Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar types! The dialogue delivery seems weird and melodramatic. If you have ever seen one of those Clint Eastwood 'Inspector Callahan' movies, the dialogue delivery is in the same style, albeit even more accentuated.
I would say that the performances are good - by 1949 standards. Gary Cooper, with the wooden dialogue delivery does a perfect portrayal of Roark and Patiricia Neal is perfect as Dominique Francon who is the detached from world but selflessly dedicated to Roark. Robert Douglas also gives perfect evil smiles as Elsworth Toohey - the demagogue. Raymond Massey as Gail Wynand too does justice to his character so does Kent Smith as Peter Keating.
BUT But but, still the movie feels more like the characters are reading the dialogues from the novel even enacting the scenes exactly as described in it. For example, when Gail Wynand is awarding the last contract to Roark at the end of the movie, his expression can be paraphrased exactly as Rand wrote in the novel; I quote:
Wynand's face was more than the face of a stranger: a stranger's face is an unapproached potentiality, to be opened if one makes the choice and effort; this was a face known, closed and never to be reached again. A face that held no pain of renunciation, but the stamp of the next step, when even pain is renounced. A face remote and quiet, with a dignity of its own, not a living attribute, but the dignity of a figure on a medieval tomb that speaks of past greatness and forbids a hand to reach out for the remains.
Not the movie crew's mistake at all, I would say. The Fountainhead is a story of characters - the essence is not so much in the sequence of events (which can as well be compared to one of the 'Angry Young Man' Bollywood flicks of the 70s and 80s) - the crux of the story is in the characters that make it up. Unfortunately, in limited time of the movie, it is difficult to give time for development of characters - especially with so many of them being unique and intense.
So for those who haven't read the novel, with an expectation of seeing some drama - the movie should turn out to be a good watch. But for those who have the time and the urge - nothing would beat reading the novel itself!!