According to Bradbury the novel is not about censorship but about how television destroys interest in reading literature. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed as a "fireman" (which, in this case, means "book burner"). 451 degrees Fahrenheit (about 233°C) is stated as "The temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns ...". It was directed by François Truffaut and was his only English-language film.
The film starred Oskar Werner as Montag and Julie Christie who was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role award for the dual roles of Linda (Mildred) Montag and Clarisse; having long red and short blonde hair respectively and being photographed through different coloured filters. Funding for the film became available when both Christie and Werner, both in popular films at the time, became interested in the project.
The movie differed somewhat from the novel.
Bradbury has said that Truffaut "captured the soul and essence of the book," although he disliked the double omission of Faber and the Mechanical Hound.
The film was shot at Pinewood Studios in England, with the monorail exterior scene taken at the French SAFEGE test track, in Châteneuf-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 of the Book People was filmed in a rare and unexpected snowstorm.
The production work was done in French, as Truffaut spoke virtually no English, but co-wrote the screenplay with Jean-Louis Ricard. Truffaut expressed disappointment with the often stilted and unnatural English-language dialogue. He was much happier with the version that was dubbed into French.
To provide a taste of what life is like in a non-literate culture, the opening credits are spoken rather than being displayed in type.
Note: According to the book Bradbury: An Illustrated Life, neither Bradbury nor Truffaut chose the books that appear in the movie. The DVD commentary suggests that many or all of the books used came from Truffaut's personal library. One of the books, though barely visible, is Fahrenheit 451 itself.
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 both Alfred Hitchcock and Herrmann before Herrmann left the film. When Truffaut contacted Bradbury for a conference about his book, Bradbury recommended Herrmann as Bradbury knew Truffaut had written a detailed book about Hitchcock.
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!