Fahrenheit 451 (1966 film)

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Fahrenheit 451
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrançois Truffaut
Screenplay by
Based onFahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury
Produced byLewis M. Allen
CinematographyNicolas Roeg
Edited byThom Noble
Music byBernard Herrmann
  • Anglo Enterprises
  • Vineyard Film Ltd.
Distributed byRank Film Distributors
Release dates
  • 15 September 1966 (1966-09-15) (France)
  • 16 September 1966 (1966-09-16) (United Kingdom)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom[1]
Budget$1.5 million[2]
Box office$1 million (US/Canada rentals)[3]
779, 811 admissions (France)[4]

Fahrenheit 451 is a 1966 British dystopian drama film directed by François Truffaut and starring Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, and Cyril Cusack. Based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury, the film takes place in a controlled society in an oppressive future, in which the government sends out firemen to destroy all literature to prevent revolution and thinking. This was Truffaut's first colour film[5] and his only non French-language film. At the 27th Venice International Film Festival, Fahrenheit 451 was nominated for the Golden Lion.[6]


In the future, a totalitarian government will employ a force known as Firemen to seek out and destroy all literature. They can search anyone, anywhere, at any time, and burn any books they find. One of the firemen, Guy Montag, meets one of his neighbors, Clarisse, a young teen who may be on the government's radar due to her unorthodox views. The two discuss his job, and she asks whether he ever reads the books he burns. Curious, he begins to hide books in his house and read them, starting with Charles Dickens's David Copperfield. This leads to conflict with his wife, Mildred, who is more concerned with being popular enough to be a member of The Family, an interactive television program that refers to its viewers as "cousins".

At the house of an illegal book collector, the fire captain, Beatty, talks with Montag at length about how books make people unhappy and make them want to think that they are better than others, which is considered anti-social. The book collector, an old woman who was seen with Clarisse a few times during Montag's rides to and from work, refuses to leave her house, opting instead to burn herself and the house so that she can die with her books.

Returning home that day, Montag tries to tell Mildred and her friends about the woman who martyred herself in the name of books and confronts them about knowing anything about what's going on in the world, calling them zombies and telling them that they're just killing time instead of living life. Disturbed over Montag's behavior, Mildred friends try to leave, but Montag stops them by forcing them to sit and listen to him read a passage from the novel David Copperfield.[7] During the reading, one of Linda's friends breaks down crying, aware of the feelings she repressed over the years, while Mildred other friends leave in disgust over Montag's alleged cruelty and the ''sick'' content of the novel.

That night, Montag dreams of Clarisse as the book collector who killed herself. The same night, Clarisse's house is raided, but she escapes through a trapdoor in the roof, thanks to her uncle. Montag breaks into Beatty's office, looking for information about the missing Clarisse, and is caught but not punished.

Montag meets with Clarisse and helps her break back into her house to destroy papers that would bring the Firemen to others like her. She tells him of the "book people", a hidden sect of people who flout the law, each of whom has memorised a book to keep it alive. Later, Montag tells Beatty that he is resigning but is convinced to go on one more call, which turns out to be Montag's own house.

Linda leaves the house, telling Montag that she couldn't live with his book obsession and leaves him to be punished by the Firemen. Angrily, he destroys the bedroom and television before setting fire to the books. Beatty lectures him about the books and pulls a last book from Montag's coat, for which Montag kills him with the flamethrower. He escapes and finds the book people, where he views his "capture" on television, staged to keep the masses entertained and because the government doesn't want it to be known that he is alive. Montag selects a book to memorise, Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe, and becomes one of the book people.




Truffaut kept a detailed diary during the production and later published in both French and English (in Cahiers du Cinéma in English). In this diary, he called Fahrenheit 451 his "saddest and most difficult" film-making experience, mainly because of intense conflicts between Werner and himself.[8][9]

The film was Universal Pictures' first European production. Julie Christie was originally cast as just Linda Montag, not both Linda and Clarisse. The part of Clarisse was offered to Jean Seberg and Jane Fonda. After much thought, Truffaut decided that the characters should not have a villain/hero relationship but rather be two sides of the same coin and cast Christie in both roles, although the idea came from the producer, Lewis M. Allen.[10]

In an interview from 1998, Charles Aznavour said that he was Truffaut's first choice to play the role given to Werner; Aznavour said that Jean-Paul Belmondo was the director's second choice, but the producers refused on the grounds that both of them were not familiar enough for the English-speaking audience.[11] Paul Newman, Peter O'Toole and Montgomery Clift were also considered for the role of Montag; Terence Stamp was cast but dropped out when he feared being overshadowed by Christie's dual roles in the film.[12] Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave and Sterling Hayden were considered for the role of the Captain, before Cyril Cusack was cast.[citation needed]


The film was shot at Pinewood Studios in England, with the monorail exterior scene taken at the French SAFEGE test track in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire near Orléans, France (since dismantled). The film featured the Alton housing estate in Roehampton, south London, and also Edgcumbe Park in Crowthorne, Berkshire. The final scene with the "Book People" reciting their chosen books was filmed at Black Park near Pinewood, in a rare and unexpected snowstorm that occurred on Julie Christie's birthday, 14 April 1966.[13]

Production notes[edit]

  • The production work was done in French, as Truffaut spoke virtually no English but co-wrote the screenplay with Jean-Louis Richard. Truffaut expressed disappointment with the often stilted and unnatural English-language dialogue. He was much happier with the version that was dubbed into French.[citation needed]
  • The film's opening credits are spoken rather than displayed in type, which might be the director's hint of what life would be like in an illiterate culture. Tony Walton did costumes and production design, while Syd Cain did art direction.[citation needed]
  • In 1971, some scenes from Fahrenheit 451 were used in The Different Ones, an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery television show, including the monorail and the flying policeman.[14]
  • Fahrenheit 451 came out in 1966, one year after a dystopian film named Alphaville was released, directed by Truffaut's friend and fellow filmmaker Jean Luc Godard. Truffaut wrote in a letter, "You mustn't think that 'Alphaville' will do any harm whatsoever to 'Fahrenheit'",[15] but he was mistaken. Truffaut's adaptation differed from the novel by portraying Montag and Clarisse falling in love. Another notable aspect of the film is that Julie Christie plays two characters, Clarisse and Montag's wife Mildred, whose name was changed to Linda in the adaptation.[16]


According to an introduction by Ray Bradbury to a CD of a rerecording of the film score by William Stromberg conducting the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Bradbury had suggested Bernard Herrmann to Truffaut. Bradbury had visited the set of Torn Curtain, meeting Alfred Hitchcock and Herrmann. When Truffaut contacted Bradbury for a conference about his book, Bradbury recommended Herrmann, as Bradbury knew that Truffaut had written a detailed book about Hitchcock.[17] When Herrmann asked Truffaut why he was chosen over modern composers, such as the director's friends Pierre Boulez or Karlheinz Stockhausen, the director replied that "They'll give me music of the twentieth century but you'll give me music of the twenty first!"[18] Herrmann used a score of only string instruments, harp, xylophone, vibraphone, marimba and glockenspiel. As with Torn Curtain, Herrmann refused the studio's request to do a title song.


Critical reception[edit]

The film had a mixed critical reception upon release. Time magazine called the film a "weirdly gay little picture that assails with both horror and humor all forms of tyranny over the mind of man"; it "strongly supports the widely held suspicion that Julie Christie cannot actually act. Though she plays two women of diametrically divergent dispositions, they seem in her portrayal to differ only in their hairdos." They also noted that the film's "somewhat remote theme challenged [Truffaut's] technical competence more than his heart; the finished film displays the artisan more than the artist".[5]

Bosley Crowther called the film a "pretentious and pedantic production" based on "an idea that called for slashing satire of a sort beyond [Truffaut's] grasp, and with language he couldn't fashion into lively and witty dialogue. The consequence is a dull picture—dully fashioned and dully played—which is rendered all the more sullen by the dazzling color in which it is photographed."[19] Leslie Halliwell described it as "1984 stuff, a little lacking on plot and rather tentatively directed, but with charming moments".[20]

It has gained significant critical acclaim over the years.[21] On the review aggregator web site Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 82% positive rating among top film critics based on 33 reviews, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The critical consensus reads: "Fahrenheit 451 is an intriguing film that suffuses Truffaut's trademark wit and black humor with the intelligence and morality of Ray Bradbury's novel."[22] Martin Scorsese has called the film an "underrated picture", which had influenced his own films.[23]

Response by Ray Bradbury[edit]

Author Ray Bradbury said in later interviews that, despite its flaws, he was pleased with the film. He was particularly fond of the film's climax, where the Book People walk through a snowy countryside, reciting the poetry and prose they've memorised, set to Bernard Herrmann's melodious score. He found it especially poignant and moving.[citation needed] However, alluding to a possible remake, Bradbury said in a 2009 interview, "The mistake they made with the first one was to cast Julie Christie as both the revolutionary and the bored wife."[24]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1967 BAFTA Best British Actress Julie Christie Nominated
Hugo Awards[25] Best Dramatic Presentation François Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, Helen Scott, Ray Bradbury Nominated
1966 Venice Film Festival[6] Golden Lion François Truffaut Nominated

Spanish broadcast[edit]

Despite the totalitarian overtones in the plot, the film was broadcast uncensored on Spanish state television (RTVE) in the early 1970s at a time when Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was still in power.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Fahrenheit 451 (1966)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 19 January 2024.
  2. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974, p. 345.
  3. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968, p. 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  4. ^ Box Office information for Francois Truffaut films at Box Office Story.
  5. ^ a b "Out of Nothinkness". Time. 18 November 1966. Archived from the original on 4 February 2013. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  6. ^ a b "Awards for Fahrenheit 451". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  7. ^ Montag reads a highly abridged excerpt from chapter 48, beginning with the words "There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose" which describe Dora's death.
  8. ^ Insdorf 1995, p. 187.
  9. ^ Baecque 1999, p. 212.
  10. ^ François Truffaut (Director) (2003). Fahrenheit 451 Special Features (DVD). Universal Pictures.
  11. ^ "Charles Aznavour". Time. 9 July 1998. Archived from the original on 15 June 2000. Retrieved 26 February 2009.
  12. ^ Baecque 1999, p. 216.
  13. ^ Julie Christie (Actress) (2003). Fahrenheit 451 Commentary (DVD). Universal Pictures.
  14. ^ "Night Gallery, Season 2, Episode 40: The Different Ones". tv.com.
  15. ^ "Fahrenheit 451 on Paper". The New Yorker. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  16. ^ "SparkNotes: Fahrenheit 451: Movie Adaptations". www.sparknotes.com. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  17. ^ Bradbury, Ray. Bernard Herrmann and Fahrenheit 451. Liner Notes for CD, 2007.
  18. ^ Kogehehn, Gunther. Fahrenheit 451. Liner Notes for CD, 2007.
  19. ^ Crowther, Bosley (15 November 1966). "Fahrenheit 451 Makes Burning Issue Dull". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 February 2009.
  20. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (1997). John Walker (ed.). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide. New York: Harper Collins. p. 246. ISBN 0-00-638779-9.
  21. ^ Movie of the Week: "Fahrenheit 451"|The New Yorker
  22. ^ "Fahrenheit 451". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  23. ^ Scorsese, Martin (13 November 2006). "François Truffaut". Time. Archived from the original on 13 December 2006. Retrieved 26 February 2009.
  24. ^ Jill Stewart (22 April 2009). "LA People 2009: The Writer — Ray Bradbury". LA WEEKLY.
  25. ^ "1967 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. 26 July 2007. Retrieved 18 May 2012.


External links[edit]