Atlas Shrugged: Part I
Produced by The Strike Productions
Directed by Paul Johansson
Screenplay by John Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O’Toole from Ayn Rand’s novel
Distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures


Now we know: When it comes to celebrating the virtues of unbridled capitalism, it does not pay to skimp.  The ten million dollars producer John Aglialoro spent on adapting Atlas Shrugged to the screen has proved woefully insufficient.

Come to think of it, Aglialoro’s option to film Rand’s 1,200-page novel would certainly have qualified as a troubled asset.  Perhaps he was too much of a Randian to apply for TARP money, judging it an instance of massive federal intervention.  Such thinking wouldn’t have deterred former Goldman Sachs honcho and current TARP czar Hank Paulson from going to bat for him, however.  Nor would Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan have hesitated.  The former chairman of the Federal Reserve came to his mentor’s aid in 1957 when her novel was criticized.  Some scurrilous critic had charged that her “book was written out of hate,” merely because it scorned the little people for thwarting the noble intentions of the capitalist big dogs.  Greenspan wrote to the New York Times to say that

“Atlas Shrugged” is a celebration of life and happiness.  Justice is unrelenting.  Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment.  Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.

I suspect this is how Greenspan thinks of those millions of investors and mortgage holders who were wiped out in the financial collapse of 2008.  They just didn’t have the “undeviating purpose and rationality” that he and his pals have aplenty.  That’s why Greenspan and company held onto their wealth—while profiting sumptuously from the losses the parasites sustained.

By the time this review appears, you won’t be able to see the meager results ten million bucks bought Aglialoro, at least not on a theater screen.  Even as I write, the film has long disappeared from all but a few venues.  In New York City, the only place I was able to find it was at the Cinemart, a rundown theater on the lower-middle-class fringe of Forest Hills, whose more affluent precincts had once been home to Geraldine Ferraro and her embezzling hubby, John Zaccaro, no strangers to Rand’s ethic of self-interest über alles.  I suspect the Cine­mart’s management knows its clientele.  These are optimistic American dreamers who hope to glean from Rand’s paean to raw capitalism the secret to financial success.

When the lights went up after the showing, I asked the young fellow across the aisle from me what he thought.  “It’s a comic book,” he chortled, adding that he meant both the film and the novel.  Critical judgments don’t come more deft than this.  Rand dealt in hyperventilating bombast in a two-dimensional mode.  Her heroes and villains are as conveniently black-and-white as those to be found in the panels of an old-time Batman and Robin newspaper strip.  She used her righteous characters as a ventriloquist does his dummies.  They are made to argue her positions with the subtlety a jackhammer applies to an unwanted sidewalk.

That said, the film is not nearly as bad as has been bruited in the film columns.  True, it is silly and obvious, its acting rarely rises above the functional, and its editing seems to be no more polished than that to be seen in daily studio rushes.  But played on television, which is where you’ll likely see it, courtesy of cable or DVD rental, it will make a perfectly acceptable evening’s entertainment, full of laughs earned both intentionally and accidentally.  I particularly liked an early scene in which the incorruptibly self-interested steel magnate, Hank Reardon (Grant Bowler), bestows on his wife a bracelet he’s made from “the first pour” of his experimental steel.  She marvels at this functional bauble with faux admiration, an ironic gleam in her piggy little eyes, while his mother harrumphs that another husband would have given his wife a diamond bracelet.  Such is the ingratitude of the parasites who depend on the productive “men of the mind,” as Rand called them.

Atlas Shrugged, Part I is the first installment of a projected trilogy.  It concerns the travails of two corporate titans of the Atlas stripe, Reardon and Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling), both besieged by the machinations of evil weaklings in high places.  Dagny is a hands-on railway heiress who’s determined not to lose her faltering business, which is being sabotaged by her brother.  James Taggart is a political insider who has decided to make his money by enlisting the services of Sen. Wesley Mouch (the wondrously porcine Michael Lerner), whose specialty is anticompetitive legislation designed to keep the incompetent solvent and himself in office.  Preferring the risks of honest competition, Dagny sets out to build a new rail line with the help of Reardon and his experimental steel that’s at once lighter and stronger than the conventional product.  Together they battle the combined forces of legislators, regulators, and unions determined to see them fail.  Did I mention that Dagny is exceptionally beautiful, and Hank, ruggedly handsome, and that they’re both lithe and athletic?  Furthermore, they’re admirably clean-limbed Protestants who believe in deferring pleasure until their honest work is done.  They refrain from falling into bed together until they have overseen the reconstruction of the Taggart Colorado line with Reardon’s steel.  They then personally drive Dagny’s sleek bullet train over the experimental tracks at better than 300 miles per hour, with some help, of course, from a trained train engineer.  Dagny and Hank, they’re real Americans.

Meanwhile, it’s always raining in the rest of America.  There’s been an economic disaster brought on by the socialist bureaucracy currently in power.  Claiming it wants nothing but social justice, Washington has put in force legislation such as the Equalization of Opportunity Act, barring entrepreneurs from owning more than one business; the Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act, to restrict cutthroat competition between firms; and the Anti-Greed Act, to redistribute wealth fairly.  Predictably, these well-intentioned measures have engendered a wave of bankruptcies and consequent massive unemployment.  What’s more, leading entrepreneurs, inventors, and industrialists have been disappearing.  It seems a mysterious fellow named John Galt has been conducting a secret strike of the strong against the weak.  At the same time, the politicians and lobbyists dither in Washington.  Even the upgrading of Dagny’s railway isn’t enough to save the day.  So when she and Hank get wind of a revolutionary motor that’s powered by static electricity (that’s right, it runs on air!), our heroic couple are off to the races.  They undertake a transcontinental search for the reclusive inventor who just may be—hold onto your hats—John Galt himself!  Let’s see, a mysterious engine that runs on air, an inventor who has disappeared, a couple determined to get to the bottom of it all . . . My friend at the theater was wrong.  Atlas Shrugged is not a comic book.  It’s a gee-whiz 1940’s radio serial in the mode of The Shadow.  No wonder the book was and still is a wild commercial success.  The radio connection, by the way, is made evident in the novel’s conclusion, which will be a challenge to the filmmakers if they ever do bring the third installment to the screen.  Rand has Galt deliver a 60-page radio address to the little people of America, explaining why he had to withdraw the creative minds such as his own from their midst and what they must do to bring back their natural masters.  (Even the exorbitantly self-important Orson Welles, playing the hammily didactic Shadow, wouldn’t have dared to presume so monstrously upon his audience’s patience.)  Although Rand insisted no philosopher save Aristotle influenced her, Galt’s address is, in both tone and substance, an unmistakable lift from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.  It’s adolescent babble about the coming of the superman.

Rand might be excused her silliness to some degree.  She was 12 when the Bolsheviks revolutionized her homeland.  She felt the results quite personally when the communists appropriated her father’s pharmacy and severely reduced her family’s fortunes.  She escaped Russia in 1926, choosing America as her destination because of what she had seen in Hollywood films.  To her mind America seemed to be what a free nation should be.  Once here, she witnessed our society without the cinematic glamour and was appalled by what she took to be its slow descent into socialism.  She took upon herself the duty to sound a continuing jeremiad against this unholy process.  Commendable, up to a point.  But in her eagerness to warn her adopted country of its impending peril, she became a strident and undiscriminating warrior against every aspect of government-inspired economic and social legislation.  Allergic to command economies, she seems never to have considered the consequences of an entirely unregulated marketplace.  How she missed the evidence, I don’t know.  It was certainly unmistakable in 1929.  I wonder what she would have to say about the wondrous benefits deregulation has bestowed upon our own moment.