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Billy Budd (1962)

aka Billy Budd

Directed By: 
Details: 119 mins · English


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Small John Claggart
Small Billy Budd
Small Edwin Fairfax Vere
Small The Dansker
No_movie_poster Philip Seymour, 1st Lieutenant
Small Julian Ratcliffe, 2nd Lieutenant
Small Steven Wyatt, Gunnery Officer
No_movie_poster Enoch Jenkins, maintopman
No_movie_poster Squeak, Mr. Claggart's assistant
No_movie_poster Alan Payne
Small William O'Daniel
Small Arnold Talbot
No_movie_poster Neil Kincaid


Small Peter Ustinov Director
Small Herman Melville Novel
Small Peter Ustinov Production
Small Peter Ustinov Writer
No_movie_poster DeWitt Bodeen Writer


In the year 1797, the British naval vessel HMS Avenger (changed from the book; in early drafts it was Indomitable, later ones, Bellipotent) impresses a crewman "according to the Rights of War" from the merchant ship The Rights Of Man. The new crewman, Billy Budd, is considered naive by his shipmates, and they attempt to indoctrinate him in their cynicism. But Budd's steadfast optimism is impenetrable, as when he is asked to critique the horrible gruel the crew must eat, he offers "It's hot. And there's a lot of it. I like everything about it except the flavor." The crew discovers Budd stammers in his speech when under anxiety.

Though Budd manages to enchant the crew, his attempts at befriending the brutal master-at-arms, John Claggart, are unsuccessful. Claggart is cruel and unrepentant, a man who believes he must control the crew through vicious flogging; savaging them before they can prey on him. He reveals his mistrust for humanity when Budd confronts him about his discipline.

Budd: "It's wrong to flog a man. It's against his being a man."

Claggart: "The sea is calm you said. Peaceful. Calm above, but below a world of gliding monsters preying on their fellows. Murderers, all of them. Only the strongest teeth survive. And who's to tell me it's any different here on board, or yonder on dry land?"

Claggart orders Squeak to find means of putting Budd on report and to implicate him in a planned mutiny. He then brings his charges to the Captain, Edwin Fairfax Vere. Although Claggart has no reason to implicate Budd in the conspiracy, Budd becomes a target because Billy represents everything that Claggart despises: humility, innocence, and trust in humanity. Vere summons both Claggart and Budd to his cabin for a private confrontation. When Claggart makes his false charges that Budd is a conspirator, Budd stammers, unable to find the words to respond, and he strikes Claggart, killing him with a single blow.

Captain Vere assembles a court-martial. Vere and all the other officers on board are fully aware of Budd's simplicity and Claggart's evil, but the captain is also torn between his morality and duty to his station. Vere intervenes in the final stages of deliberations (which are in full support of Budd). He argues the defendant must be found guilty for even striking Claggart, Budd's superior, not to mention killing him. His arguments to pursue the letter of the law succeed, and Budd is convicted.

Condemned to be hanged from the ship's yardarm at dawn the following morning, Budd takes care to wear his good shoes. At Budd's final words, "God bless Captain Vere!", Vere crumbles, and Billy is subsequently hoisted up and hanged. At this point the crew is on the verge of mutiny over the incident, but Vere can only stare off into the distance, the picture of abdication, overtaken by his part in the death of innocence. Just as the crew is to be fired upon, a French vessel appears and commences cannon fire on the Avenger, and the crew eventually returns fire. In the course of battle a piece of the ship's rigging falls on Vere, killing him in an act of poetic justice. The Ships figurehead is also shot off while a narrator tells of Budd heroic sacrifice.