Ayn Rand adapted her own novel about a creative architect who refuses to compromise and comes to be admired by an independent woman and a powerful newspaper tycoon.
Howard Roark (Gary Cooper) is expelled from architecture school and goes to work for Henry Cameron (Henry Hull). Years later Roark has taken over. Henry gets upset and collapses. In the ambulance he advises Roark not to compromise.
Peter Keating (Kent Smith) offers broke Roark a loan, but he declines. Roark refuses a big commission because he won't make changes. At The Banner chief Gail Wynand (Raymond Massey) rejects the advice of Ellsworth Toohey (Robert Douglas) and asks Dominique Francon (Patricia Neal) for an architect. Wynand asks architect Keating to break his engagement to Dominique for the commission, and Keating does so. Wynand asks Dominique to marry him, but she seeks freedom.
Dominique sees Roark working in a quarry and hires him to replace broken marble. When he sends another man, she finds him and whips him. He goes to her and forces her to kiss him. Roger Enright (Ray Collins) asks Roark to design a luxury apartment building. Alvah Scarret (Jerome Cowan) tells Dominique to denounce the Enright project, but she tells Wynand it is great and resigns. Enright thanks Roark for the building and has a party. Dominique learns Roark's name, goes to his apartment, and says she loves him. She is afraid they will destroy him, but he asks her to wait and see.
Dominique tells Wynand she will marry him. Roark is not given big projects, but he designs a gas station and other creative buildings. Wynand asks him to design his house for Dominique. She reminds Wynand of his anti-Enright campaign, but they both like Roark's plans.
Keating asks Toohey why he has fallen, but Toohey gives him a chance to design low-cost housing. Keating asks Roark to design it for him, and he agrees provided no changes are made. Wynand asks Roark to design his skyscraper. Keating refuses to make changes, but they ignore him. He apologizes to Roark.
Dominique goes to Roark and says she is leaving Wynand. Roark sends her to the model housing. She sees the project blown up, and Roark asks to be arrested. Toohey calls Roark an egoist, but Wynand defends him. Roark is out on bail and visits Dominique. Toohey gets Keating to confess that Roark designed the low-cost housing. Wynand fires Toohey, and Scarret complains that many left. People boycott Wynand's Banner. Dominique works for Wynand, who realizes he has no power. His board demands that he take back Toohey and oppose Roark to save The Banner.
In the trial Roark defends himself by speaking on individual freedom and integrity. He opposes the herd mentality of collectivism and admits he destroyed the housing project. Yet the jury finds him not guilty. Wynand tells Roark he is closing The Banner and asks him to design his skyscraper. Roark agrees, and Wynand shoots himself. Dominique marries Roark and admires his new building.
The uneven quality of this thematic melodrama may be
because Ayn Rand refused to allow changes. Ironically the excessive
individualism and resistance to cooperating for a common good
result in the destruction of low-cost housing while glorifying
the hubris of the skyscraper.