Fahrenheit 451 (1966) Movie Review

Posted on August 25, 2020. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Fahrenheit 451, Director Francois Truffaut, Screenplay by Francois Truffaut and Jean_Lewis Richard, for Vineyard Films, 1966, based on the book by Ray Bradbury, 1953, 1 hr. 53 min. Starring Oskar Werner as Montag, Julie Christi Clarisse AND Linda Montag, Cyril Cusack as Captain Beatty. We watched the movie in August, 2020 (a very fitting year for watching THIS movie!), Very Good! The movie won no awards but was nominated for the British Film Awards, Best Actress for Julie Christi, nominated for the Hugo Award Best Dramatic Presentation, and the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion award for Director Francois Truffaut. The movie was generally panned by critics at the time, but has grown in reputation over time, a mark of a classic.

My general feelings about the movie were that it was just a bit on the “campy” side, not having the budget of a James Bond movie of the same time period, so the level of excellence was just not there. The movie was “creepy” because it did portray a dark, creepy, dystopian future, and I am Fine with that! This aspect of the movie could have been enhanced if it was filmed at night, more like film noir, and I think even doing the movie in black&white would have improved the aesthetic, but by 1966 everything was being made in color. The movie made several changes from the book, some of which affected the movie negatively, and some positively. The positive change was that in the book Clarisse dies by a hit and run (and Montag almost does). I prefer the movie here as it has Clarisse make it to the camp of the Book People. Another positive change was making Clarisse a school teacher while the book just had her as a teenager. Showing the struggle Clarisse had as a teacher was excellent, but having Montag go to the school was not so good. The scene where the little boy, with whom Clarisse thought she had a good relationship, comes out of the class and turns on her was magnificent. The negative changes start with changing Montag’s wife’s name from Millie to Linda (for no reason I can discern). The book has much more about Captain Beatty discussing the changes in society with Montag that is crucial for the story….leaving that out was disappointing. Leaving the mechanical hound out was unforgivable as well. Perhaps the technology of 1966 made that an unsurmountable obstacle (I have not seen the 2018 movie yet, so I do not know how they handled that…but I can imagine!) Similarly, changing the ending from the book, excluding the nuclear war, mystifies me as that was a critical part of society when the book was written and the movie was made. At under 2 hours, the movie had time to add these features they left out, so I am just disappointed at these discrepancies.

The plot is that Montag is a Fireman in the not too distant future, and the job has changed from what we know a Fireman is all about: instead of putting out fires and saving people, Firemen start fires, burn books, houses that had books, and the people who cling to their books. Montag meets Clarisse and realizes through her questioning, that he is not happy. His wife is a drug addicted, shallow person who only wants to watch her wall sized TV (think Facebook on a Big Screen with Reality TV thrown in besides) and she tries to commit suicide. Montag begins to steal books and read, and falls in love with books. Eventually, he is found out, and is confronted by his boss, Captain Beatty, whom Montag then kills. A manhunt is on and Montag escapes to the country to live with the Book People and sees Clarisse again. While there is no hint of a romance between Montag and Clarisse, that might have been a good addition. The movie ends on an optimistic note, absent the nuclear war of the book.

The message of the book and movie are the same, despite the differences, but that message seems to have changed over the years. Is the movie about government oppression, the loss of freedom, or is it about the dangers of the new media, TV, and the loss of interest in books and in studying the hard questions? Yes. In the background to Ray Bradbury he had a deep love for books and libraries and an awareness of what Hitler and the Nazis and the Soviets did in suppressing books, ideas and freedom. There is a link between freedom, ideas, and books that Bradbury grew up with and wrote about in Fahrenheit 451. In the 1950’s, after the writing of the book, the McCarthy hearings on communism infiltration of the US government happened which Hollywood, the Education elites and Leftists everywhere opposed and resented. Television was just getting started in the 1940’s and by the time of Bradbury’s writing the basic idea of TV was growing in use. Bradbury was prescient in his understanding of the role TV and now social media like Facebook would play in people’s lives. He was cautioning against losing the value of books both from a technological perspective, and from a tyrannical government perspective. I do not know if Bradbury was influenced by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, but it seems likely as there are traces of both authors’ works in Fahrenheit 451.

Is this movie fit for the modern viewer? I have not seen the 2018 adaptation so I cannot speak about that, but this book is a Must read and the movie is a very powerful film for those who…don’t like reading (how could I have resisted that line??) Despite all of those negative comments I made about this movie, yet the sum total of the movie was Very Good. I am glad we watched it, and I Highly Recommend it for Every American.






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