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Billy Budd (1962)

Approved  |   |  Adventure, Drama, History  |  12 November 1962 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 2,774 users  
Reviews: 48 user | 17 critic

Billy is an innocent, naive seaman in the British Navy in 1797. When the ship's sadistic master-at-arms is murdered, Billy is accused and tried.



(based upon the play: "Billy Budd"), (based upon the play: "Billy Budd"), 4 more credits »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Claggart - Master of Arms
Edwin Fairfax Vere - Post Captain Royal Navy
The Dansker - Sailmaker
Paul Rogers ...
Philip Seymour - First Lieutenant
Julian Radcliffe - Second Lieutenant
Steven Wyatt - Gunnery Officer
Ronald Lewis ...
Enoch Jenkins - Maintopman
Lee Montague ...
Squeak - Assistant to Mr. Claggart
Thomas Heathcote ...
Alan Payne - Maintopman
William O'Daniel - Maintopman (as Ray McAnnally)
Arnold Talbot - Maintopman
Neil Kincaid - Maintopman
Alfred Hallam - Captain of Marines
Niall MacGinnis ...
Nathaniel Graveling - Ship's Master, Rights of Man (as Niall McGinnis)
Victor Brooks ...
Amos Leonard - First Mate, Rights of Man


H.M.S. Avenger is headed into battle against the French fleet during the Napoleonic Wars, and the dark shadow of two recent mutinies in the English fleet concern Captain Vere. He relies on his cruel and often sadistic Master-at-Arms John Claggert to maintain what he believes to be tenuous order and discipline aboard the ship. When a new seaman, Billy Budd, is pressed into service from a passing merchantman, his innocent, happy-go-lucky attitude quickly endears him to both his messmates as well as the ship's officers. However, his charismatic naivete seems to bother Claggert, whose perverse depravity makes him resent Billy's good-natured purity, especially after the teenager's promotion to fore-top captain. The mean-spirited Claggert unfairly plots to put him on report and ultimately perjures himself when he accuses Billy of conspiring to mutiny. Written by Gabe Taverney (

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Men!.. The Mutiny!...The Might!... Of Herman Melville's Classic Adventure of the High Seas! See more »


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

12 November 1962 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Die Verdammten der Meere  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Herman Melville had been writing poetry for 30 years when he returned to fiction with "Billy Budd" in late 1888. Still unfinished when he died in 1891, it was forgotten. Melville's biographer accidentally stumbled upon it when going through a trunk of the writer's papers in his granddaughter's New Jersey home in 1919. Melville's widow worked to help complete it, and it was finally published in 1924. Over the years other unsatisfactory versions were published, but it wasn't until Melville's original notes were found that the definitive version was ultimately published in 1962. Ironically Peter Ustinov's film version was released the same year. See more »


Lieutenant Seymour: Aye sir, that is your right.
Captain Vere: It's no right. Which one of us here have rights? It's my duty and I must perform it.
See more »

Crazy Credits

As the actors' names appear on the screen, the character each plays introduces himself See more »


Version of Billy Budd (1988) See more »

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User Reviews

Just as good as the novel!
12 February 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

I saw this when it first came out and loved it! The makers of this film (from the UK) are to be praised for addressing a subject historically so controversial that their countrymen could object it has anti-British content based on familiar stereotypes. Yet it is undeniably true. The British Empire thrived on a system of enforced labor, which included plantation slavery, pressgangs in the Navy and crimping of soldiers into the Army. The practice of stealing American sailors off of American ships and forcing them into the British service remained a vexed question between the two countries even after the revolution. Americans who had won their freedom in the revolution had to surrender it to the same tyrants on the high seas. "Billy Budd" shows the tragic injustice of being forced to serve an enemy, suffer his contempt and be punished for the natural act of defending oneself.

Technically, the film couldn't be better. The drama is excellently drawn in well lit black and white and cuts from scene to scene in a manner that never sacrifices clarity to suspense, telling the story as well as it can be told on screen. The close ups reveal all the nuances of character implied in Melville's great novel, making very accessible the emotion of righteous indignation, which is the film's final message. Today, a production crew like the one that made "Billy Budd" could make itself very busy faithfully translating literary classics onto the screen.

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