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Billy Budd (1962) - Plot Summary Poster

(1962)

Plot

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Summaries

  • Billy Budd (Terence Stamp) 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.

  • 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 (Sir Peter Ustinov). He relies on his cruel and often sadistic Master-at-Arms John Claggert (Robert Ryan) to maintain what he believes to be tenuous order and discipline aboard the ship. When a new seaman, Billy Budd (Terence Stamp), is pressed into service from a passing merchantman, his innocent, happy-go-lucky attitude quickly endears him to 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.

  • It's 1797. Billy Budd (Terence Stamp) is a crew member of the British merchant ship the "Rights of Man" sailing off the coast of Spain, when the ship is briefly commandeered by the British Naval Ship, H.M.S. Avenger. The officers of the Avenger decide to impress Budd into their service as is their right under British marine law. The young, somewhat innocent Budd, to whom honesty is the most noble trait, is quick to make friends with his new crewmen, but learns quickly that life aboard a Naval ship, this Naval ship in particular, is different than aboard a merchant ship when he sees one of his fellow crewmen being flogged. The reason for the flogging is unknown, and could be, as the elder Dansker (Melvyn Douglas), a fellow crew member, states, solely because it was his time. The instigator of the flogging and of seemingly other unprovoked brutality is the ship's Master at Arms, John Claggart (Robert Ryan). The ship's Captain, Edwin Fairfax Vere (Sir Peter Ustinov), knows the type of man that Claggart is, and does not condone his actions. Budd, in turn, does not hate Claggart as do most of the other crewmen, but tries to understand him. When Vere is the sole witness in an incident between Claggart and Budd, Vere, with the help of his officers, has to decide what is just, what is the best for the Avenger and what is best for the British Admiralty, especially in this time of war.

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