Billy Budd
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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Billy Budd can be found here.

Young, nave, and affable seaman William 'Billy' Budd (Terence Stamp) is pressed into service on the British Naval Ship, the Avenger, headed into battle against the French fleet during the Napoleonic Wars in 1797. Although billy tries to obey all the shipboard's rules and make friends with the crewmen, he is unfairly accused by cruel Master-at-Arms John Claggert (Robert Ryan) of conspiring to mutiny.

The film is based on a 1951 stage play 'Billy Budd' by Louis O. Coxe and Robert H. Chapman, which was based on the novella Billy Budd, Sailor by American novelist Herman Melville [1819-1891], published posthumously in 1924 and again, with revisions, in 1962. The screenplay was written by English film-maker Peter Ustinov (who also directed) and American screenwriters DeWitt Bodeen and Robert Rossen.

The morning after Billy's superiors have decided on his punishment, the crew assembles on deck at dawn, wondering who is to be flogged. The Dansker (Melvyn Douglas) points out that they flog men at noon and that the early morning is for a hanging. After roll count, the crew is told that there is one absentee, but they notice that two Billy and Claggart are missing and express their hopes that it is Claggart about to be hanged. When they learn that it is Billy about to be hanged for killing Claggart, they break into a cheer for Billydoing what they only dared to do, but they are immediately silenced. Billy is led to the noose, which is placed around his neck. Just before the hanging crew hoists Billy up, he shouts, 'God bless Captain Vere (Peter Ustinov), causing Vere to lose his composure and shed a tear. 'I'm only a man,' he says quietly, 'not fit to do the work of God or the Devil.' After the hanging, when the crew is given the order to dismiss, they refuse to obey and stand unmovingly in defiance. Considering this tantamount to mutiny, the officers draw their swords and order that the crew be fired upon. Suddenly, a French ship rounds a rock and begins firing on the Avenger. After remaining still for a few more seconds, the Avenger crew springs to action and begins to fire back. In the final scene, the Avenger's figurehead can be seen floating in the water, while the narrator says, 'If the sacrifice of Billy Budd has served to make men more conscious of justice, then he will not have died in vain. Men are perishable things, but justice will live as long as the human soul...and the law as long as the human mind.'

Billy Budd is a classic tale about good versus evil. Through no fault of his own, other than trying to be obedient, friendly, and trusting, Billy (good) is pitted against Claggart (evil). Viewers have attempted to explain Claggart's evil with terms like 'sadistic', 'paranoid', and even 'homosexual,' but the movie offers no explanation for Claggart's cruelty. A second focus of the movie is on the relationship of justice versus law and how they interact.


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