Fahrenheit 451 (1966 film)

Fahrenheit 451 is a 1966 British dystopian drama film directed by François Truffaut and starring Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, 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[4] as well as his only English-language film. At the 1966 Venice Film Festival, Fahrenheit 451 was nominated for the Golden Lion.[5]

Fahrenheit 451
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrançois Truffaut
Produced byLewis M. Allen
Screenplay by
  • Jean-Louis Richard
  • François Truffaut
Based onFahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyNicolas Roeg
Edited byThom Noble
  • Anglo Enterprises
  • Vineyard Film Ltd.
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • 16 September 1966 (1966-09-16) (UK)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$1.5 million[1]
Box office$1,000,000 (US/ Canada)[2]
779, 811 admissions (France)[3]


In the future, a totalitarian government employs a force known as Firemen to seek out and destroy all literature. They have the power to search anyone, anywhere, at any time, and burn any books they find. One of the firemen, Guy Montag, meets one of his neighbours, Clarisse, a young schoolteacher who may be fired due to her unorthodox views. The two have a discussion about his job, where she asks if 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, Linda, who is more concerned with being popular enough to be a member of The Family, an interactive television programme that refers to its viewers as "cousins".

At the house of an illegal book collector, the fire captain talks with Montag at length about how books make people unhappy and make them want to think 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 she can die with her books.

Returning home that day, Montag tries to tell Linda 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 they're just killing time instead of living life. Disturbed over Montag's behaviour, Linda's friends try to leave but Montag stops them, by forcing them to sit and listen to him read a novel passage. During the reading, one of Linda's friends breaks down crying, aware of the feelings she repressed over the years, while Linda's 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 the captain'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 have memorized a book to keep it alive. Later, Montag tells the captain he is resigning but is convinced to go on one more call, which turns out to be Montag's 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. The captain 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 & 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 Cinema 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.[6][7]

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. Tippi Hedren was also considered but Hitchcock told Truffaut that she was not available. 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.[8]

In an interview from 1998, Charles Aznavour said he was Truffaut's first choice to play the role given to Werner; Aznavour said 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.[9] 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.[10] Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave and Sterling Hayden were considered for the role of the Captain, before Cyril Cusack was cast.


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.[11]

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.

The movie'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.

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.[12]


Critical reception

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."[4]

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."[13] Leslie Halliwell described it as "1984 stuff, a little lacking on plot and rather tentatively directed, but with charming moments".[14]

It has gained significant critical acclaim over the years. On the review aggregator web site Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 82% positive rating among top film critics based on 33 reviews. 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."[15] Martin Scorsese has called the film an "underrated picture" which had influenced his own films.[16]

Awards and nominations

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
1967 BAFTA Best British Actress Julie Christie Nominated
Hugo Awards[17] Best Dramatic Presentation François Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, Helen Scott, Ray Bradbury Nominated
1966 Venice Film Festival[5] Golden Lion François Truffaut Nominated

Ray Bradbury's views

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 memorized, set to Herrmann's melodious score. He found it especially poignant and moving. In a 2009 interview Bradbury was quoted, "The mistake they made with the first one was to cast Julie Christie as both the revolutionary and the bored wife."[18]


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 Truffaut had written a detailed book about Hitchcock.[19] 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!"[20] 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.

Spanish broadcast

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.


  1. Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p345
  2. "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, January 3, 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  3. Box Office information for Francois Truffaut films at Box Office Story
  4. "Out of Nothinkness". Time. 18 November 1966. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  5. "Awards for Fahrenheit 451". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  6. Insdorf 1995, p. 187.
  7. Baecque 1999, p. 212.
  8. François Truffaut (Director) (2003). Fahrenheit 451 Special Features (DVD). Universal Pictures.
  9. "Charles Aznavour". Time. 9 July 1998. Retrieved 26 February 2009.
  10. Baecque 1999, p. 216.
  11. Julie Christie (Actress) (2003). Fahrenheit 451 Commentary (DVD). Universal Pictures.
  12. http://www.tv.com/shows/night-gallery/the-different-ones-77173/
  13. Crowther, Bosley (15 November 1966). "Fahrenheit 451 Makes Burning Issue Dull". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 February 2009.
  14. Halliwell, Leslie (1997). John Walker (ed.). Halliwell's Film and Video Guide. New York: Harper Collins. p. 246. ISBN 0-00-638779-9.
  15. "Fahrenheit 451". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  16. Scorsese, Martin (13 November 2006). "François Truffaut". Time. Retrieved 26 February 2009.
  17. "1967 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  18. http://www.laweekly.com/2009-04-23/la-life/thewriter/
  19. Bradbury, Ray. Bernard Herrmann and Fahrenheit 451. Liner Notes for CD, 2007.
  20. Kogehehn, Gunther. Fahrenheit 451. Liner Notes for CD, 2007.
  • Baecque, Antoine de; Toubiana, Serge (1999). Truffaut: A Biography. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0375400896.
  • Bergan, Ronald, ed. (2008). François Truffaut: Interviews. Oxford: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1934110133.
  • Bradbury, Ray (2003). Fahrenheit 451. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0743247221.
  • Holmes, Diana; Ingram, Robert, eds. (1998). François Truffaut (French Film Directors). Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0719045530.
  • Insdorf, Annette (1995). François Truffaut. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521478083.
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