AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Billy Budd
Director: Peter Ustinov (Dir)
Release Date:   1962
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 30 Oct 1962
Duration (in mins):   123
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Cast:   Terence Stamp (Billy Budd)  
    Peter Ustinov (Capt. Edward Fairfax Vere)  
    Robert Ryan [1909-1973] (Master-at-Arms John Claggart)  
    Melvyn Douglas (The Dansker)  
    Ronald Lewis (Jenkins)  
    David McCallum (Lieutenant Wyatt)  
    John Neville (Lieut. John Ratcliffe)  
    Paul Rogers (Lieut. Philip Seymour)  
    Lee Montague (Squeak)  
    Thomas Heathcote (Payne)  
    Ray McAnally (O'Daniel)  
    Robert Brown (Talbot)  
    John Meillon (Kincaid)  
    Cyril Luckham (Hallam)  
    Niall MacGinnis (Captain Graveling)  
    Victor Brooks    
    Barry Keegan    

Summary: In 1797 a young merchant seaman, Billy Budd, is impressed into service by the British Navy for the war between England and France. His innate goodness blinds him to the evil in other men, and when he proves to be an excellent sailor, Billy soon becomes the most popular member of the crew. Only the sadistic and hated master-at-arms, Claggart, remains aloof; unable to comprehend the boy's simple and honest nature, Claggart attempts to bring about his downfall by falsely accusing him of instigating a mutiny. The ship's captain, Edward Fairfax Vere, knows that Claggart is lying and calls upon Billy to deny the charge, but the boy is so stunned by the accusation that an impediment in his speech renders him incapable of uttering a word; instead, he strikes Claggart, causing him to fall, fracture his skull, and die. At the shipboard court-martial, all the officers agree that the death was accidental and Billy should therefore be acquitted, but Vere points out that they must deal with naval law, not justice, and that Billy must pay the death penalty for killing a superior officer. The board is forced to make the agonizing decision that Billy be hanged, but as the rope is placed around his neck, he prevents a possible mutiny among the crew by crying out, "God bless Captain Vere." The latter is so emotionally moved by the words that he considers himself unfit for command, but the crew rallies when a French ship appears on the horizon. Vere dies in the ensuing engagement. 

Production Company: Anglo-Allied Pictures  
Distribution Company: Allied Artists  
Director: Peter Ustinov (Dir)
  Michael Birkett (Asst dir)
  Claude Watson (1st & 2nd asst dir)
Producer: Peter Ustinov (Prod)
  A. Ronald Lubin (Exec prod)
  Arthur S. Ferriman (Prod assoc)
Writer: Peter Ustinov (Scr)
  DeWitt Bodeen (Scr)
  Robert Rossen (Scr (see note))
Photography: Robert Krasker (Dir of photog)
  John Harris (Cam op)
  Kelvin Pike (Focus)
  Bernard Ford (Focus)
Art Direction: Don Ashton (Prod des)
  Peter Murton (Art dir)
Film Editor: Jack Harris (Film ed)
Costumes: Anthony Mendleson (Cost des)
  Ron Beck (Ward master)
  Laura Nightingale (Ward mistress)
Music: Anthony Hopkins (Mus)
  The Philharmonic Orchestra (Played by)
Sound: Charles Crafford (Sd)
  Charles Poulton (Sd)
  Len Shilton (Sd)
  Gordon Hooton (Sd cam op)
  Tom Buchanan (Boom op)
Special Effects: George Blackwell (Spec eff)
Make Up: Bob Lawrence (Makeup)
  Henry Montsash (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Victor Peck (Prod mgr)
  Joan Parcell (Prod secy)
  Stanley Gale (Constr mgr)
  George Higgins (Stills)
  F. Pratt (Chargehand prop)
  Wally Thompson (Chargehand elec)
  D. Harrison (Nautical rigger)
Country: United Kingdom

Source Text: Based on the novella "Billy Budd, Foretopman" in Billy Budd, and Other Prose Pieces by Herman Melville (London, 1924) and the play Billy Budd by Louis O. Coxe and Robert Chapman (New York, 10 Feb 1951).
Authors: Robert Chapman
  Louis O. Coxe
  Herman Melville

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Anglo-Allied Pictures 1/11/1962 dd/mm/yyyy LP23189

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd:
  Widescreen/ratio: CinemaScope

 
Genre: Drama
 
Subjects (Major): Capital punishment
  Courts-martial and courts of inquiry
  Great Britain. Navy
  Innocents
  Manslaughter
  Mutiny
  Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1814
  Sadism
  Sailors

Note: Location scenes filmed in Spain. Opened in London in Sep 1962. Rossen is not officially credited for writing the screenplay. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   27 Aug 62   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Aug 62   p. 3.
Life   7 Dec 62   p. 128.
New York Times   31 Oct 62   p. 32.
Time   9 Nov 62   p. 99.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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