Director: Francois Truffaut
Writers: Francois Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard
Stars: Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, and Cyril Cusack
Fahrenheit 451 begins interestingly on two-tone color close-up shots of TV antennas on buildings as the credits are narrated–no words to be read.
An alarm sounds and the great red salamander leaves the equally red fire station. The fireman hang from the truck as Keystone Cops of old but more rigid. They arrive at the scene and mobilize to one of the apartments. Inside they search every nook and cranny, behind shelves and inside appliances. They find what they are looking for: books. The books are thrown over the side and mounted in a pile. And then the fireman set to do what they came to do; not put out fires but start them by burning the books.
Later we follow one of the fireman, Montag (Oskar Werner), home. He travels by monorail and meets Clarisse (Julie Christie), a young lady that recognizes him from their neighborhood. Together they walk from the monorail to each other homes and talk the whole way. The experience is completely foreign to Montag. He finds Clarisse peculiar. At his home we meet Montag’s wife Linda (also Julie Christie). An empty women only interested in herself and what she is watching on TV. They are two people living under the same roof but not sharing a life.
Fahrenheit 451 starts off strong, but then the monorail comes off the track. This was the director’s, Francois Truffaut, first film in color and in English. Oskar Werner was an Austrian actor whose first language was German, and grew to dislike Truffaut as a director; both clashing over Werner’s interpretation of the role. The film is English, filmed by a French crew, and staring an Austrian. Communication problems abounded.
Werner delivers a purposely robotic performance to represent his assimilation into his culture, and for the most part it works. Julie Christie in dual roles is an idea that pays off. You do not initially recognize her as the same actress when you meet each character. But by using the same actress Truffaut is showing how easily we can become one thing or the other. Both characters in their life story started the same, but are now vastly different people. But the biggest flaw of the film is Cyril Cusack as The Captain. In a role that carries the weight of The Chancellor from “The Obsolete Man” episode of The Twilight Zone–the primary antagonist representing the State–Cusack’s performance is small and pompous as opposed to commanding and seductive. Without it the film is flat and emotionless.
For being his first film in color, Truffaut uses it to great effect–especially the use of red. Given the technology of the time and his limited budget, he also did an admirable job creating a future world. But the film is dated.
In the end for today’s audience, Fahrenheit 451 is a curiosity. A film to be watched for those who are interested in Truffaut. The film does not carry the weight of the book it is based on, nor give you anything new like the play.
Grade = C-