Billy Budd

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
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Ustinov directs this adaptation of Melville's last work in uncharacteristically serious vein. There is a decided shift in emphasis from Melville's allegory of absolute good and evil to a poignant examination of the blindness of justice and law. The angelic Billy is played by a blond Stamp in his first film role; Ustinov himself is Man-o-War Captain Vere, forced to try the naif Billy for the accidental murder of master-at-arms Claggart; and Ryan's performance as the evil Claggart, a role he had long coveted, is staggeringly authoritative, right up to the smile on his face as he dies knowing Billy will hang for his murder. There are many powerful scenes unspoilt by attempts from Ustinov to be cinematic; in fact his self-effacing direction allows the actors to give uniformly sincere performances. Only marginally spoiled by such visual conceits as the lurching ship representing the tilting scales of justice during Vere's debate on whether Billy should hang.

Release details

Duration: 125 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Peter Ustinov
Screenwriter: Peter Ustinov, DeWitt Bodeen
Cast: Robert Ryan
Peter Ustinov
Terence Stamp
Melvyn Douglas
Paul Rogers
John Neville
Ronald Lewis
David McCallum
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