Billy Budd (1962) - Rotten Tomatoes

Billy Budd1962

Billy Budd (1962)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

This allegorical tale of good verses evil comes from the classic novel by Herman Melville. Billy (Terence Stamp) is an eager 18 year old who goes to sea on a boat commanded by Captain Vere (Peter Ustinov). Billy is relentlessly harassed by the sadistic master-of arms Claggart (Robert Ryan) and his equally slimy underling Squeak (Lee Montague). When Billy kills Claggart, the Captain is torn between own compassion for Billy and the maritime law calling for Billy's death by hanging. He ponders the moral dilemma when a strong case is given for justifiable homicide. Peter Ustinov produced and directed the film. The screenplay was co-written by Ustinov and Robert Rossen.

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Terence Stamp
as Billy Budd
Robert Ryan
as John Claggart
Peter Ustinov
as Edwin Fairfax Vere
Melvyn Douglas
as The Dansker
John Neville
as Lt. John Ratcliffe
David McCallum
as Lieutenant Wyatt
Ronald Lewis
as Jenkins
Paul Rogers
as Lt. Seymour
Niall MacGinnis
as Capt. Graveling
John Meillon
as Kincaid
Ray McAnally
as O'Daniel
Victor Brooks
as Amos Leonard
Barry Keegan
as Charles Mathews
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Critic Reviews for Billy Budd

All Critics (10)

In the title role is the year's most promising newcomer: 23-year old Terence Stamp, as a benevolent lad whose innocence and simplicity contain the seeds of his own destruction.

October 11, 2019 | Full Review…

The problem with well-worn historical themes like the eighteenth-century British navy is how to clean the past of the clichés that now barnacle it... Here we have just the usual costume stuff.

July 10, 2019 | Full Review…

The script thoughtfully examines the dangers of placing the letter of the law over true justice.

July 22, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Terence Stamp received his only Oscar nomination (supporting category)for playing the titular role, the naive and charismatic youth, in Peter Ustinov's version of Melville's classic.

March 14, 2012 | Rating: B | Full Review…

Director Ustinov indulges his own performance, but otherwise, it's a great yarn well told.

August 14, 2003 | Rating: 3/5

Audience Reviews for Billy Budd


a faithful adaptation of melville's powerful last work. i liked it slightly better than huston's moby dick, tho to be fair, no one could faithfully adapt that behemoth. terence stamp in his film debut is a real charmer and robert ryan has never been quite so flinty-eyed and evil. ustinov's direction outshines his acting

Stella Dallas
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

Fine acting in this sad tale.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer


In "Billy Budd," it is 1797 and the man of war Avenger, commanded by Captain Vere(Peter Ustinov, who also co-wrote the script, directed and produced), boards the merchant Rights of Man to impress sailors and comes away with only one, Billy Budd(Terence Stamp), a junior sailor. His first impression of His Majesty's Navy is not a good one as soon after his arrival he witnesses a flogging watched over Master of Arms Claggart(Robert Ryan). His fellow sailors are not kind either, as he is challenged to a fight by Jenkins(Ronald Lewis) who quickly comes to regret his rash decision. "Billy Budd" is a compelling adaptation of the allegorical Herman Melville novel which I read back in high school, so I can't accurately judge how faithful this is. The acting is good, even if Robert Ryan seems out of place but I think this is intentional, as Claggart is not an entirely unsympathetic presence, even if he is the villain and the catalyst for the action. That goes to the setting of the story during a war when the military has no choice but to take people who should never be in a war zone. For different reasons, Claggart is one, and Budd, though he makes a superb sailor, is too kind for such cruel circumstances. Whether or not there is anything else to be read into this story is up for debate, even with an oddly filmed shot.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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