With a serious and even terrifying theme, this excursion into science fiction has been thoughtfully directed by Francois Truffaut and there is adequate evidence of light touches to bring welcome and needed relief to a sombre and scarifying subject.
In author Ray Bradbury’s glimpse into the future, books are considered the opium of the people. Their possession is a crime and the state has a squad of firemen to destroy the illicit literature with flame throwers. Fahrenheit 451, it is explained, is the temperature at which books are reduced to ashes.
The yarn develops just a handful of characters, emphasising the inevitable conflict between state and literate-minded citizens. One of the principals is Montag (Oskar Werner) an obedient and lawful fireman, who does his book destroying job with efficiency and apparent enthusiasm, while his equally law-abiding wife (Julie Christie) spends her days glued to the mural TV screen.
A young probationary school teacher (also played by Christie) whom Montag meets on the monorail while on the way to the fire station, plants the first seeds of doubt in his mind, and from then on he regularly steals the odd book which he reads secretly.
Werner, in the difficult role of the once diffident and ambitious fireman who finally challenges authority, plays the part in low key style which adds to the integrity of the character, and Christie is standout in her dual roles.
Cyril Cusack plays the fire station captain with horrifying dedication, and Anton Diffring is effectively cast as a heavy who has caught Montag in the book stealing act.