And again I reached that age old question? Is Robert Ryan going to be a goodie or a baddie? Well I believe it’s no secret to say that Robert Ryan’s portrayal of John Claggart the Master Of Arms is as malicious and hateful as he’s ever been. No question? A man so cruel and despicable that he makes another ship bound lunatic, like say Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) look decidedly sweet and tender.
I’d never heard of this ode to Billy Budd before. It came up in conversation at work whilst discussing Terence Stamp. What with it being one of his first major roles. What a role to get! Terence steps forward to set alight the screen every scene he appears on. His smile is so innocent and pure. His Somerset accent stands out and gives him (sorry no offence intended) an angelic and simple manner. He’s young, enthusiastic and eager to learn and make friends. This contrasting demeanor is hard for the old tough crew of new shipmates to grasp but when they do, everybody loves Billy.
Tagline – The Men!.. The Mutiny!…The Might!… The Magnitude Of Herman Melville’s Classic Adventure of the High Seas!
Terence Stamp is Billy Budd. A loyal member of the ship, The Rights of Man. A merchant ship. Unfortunately they crossed the path of H.M.S. Avenger bound for battle with the French during the Napoleonic War. Billy is recruited, press ganged, into joining the naval crew of the Avenger. Instantly Claggart takes note of this wet behind the ears young man.
Claggart the Master Of Arms menaces around the decks like a witchfinder general. With his sidekick Squeak (Lee Montague) smirking beside him at all times. These two relish in terrorising the crew. The sadistic Master of Arms puts anyone he dislikes on report. He commands the power and takes pleasure in having the men tried and flogged for the simplest things. No doubt, Claggart is an evil man. Even the officers are weary of him. Captain Vere (Sir Peter Ustinov) will stand up to him but they know, well they think, that Claggart stops the men from staging mutiny.
Tagline – MUTINY…the word the navy dreaded most!
Now that Claggart has Billy in his sights, he will do anything to thwart him for being the wonderful Billy. Claggart is resentful of Billy, vindictive and bitter against him. Billy smiles as the moon shines on his face. Claggart’s body twists with deep repressed hatred and pent-up anger. Claggart is a troubled man. Will Billy Budd be able to steer clear of this resentful man? Can he keep the Captain and his officers happy? Will he be able to stomach the one-legged chefs food?
Billy Budd – “It’s hot and there’s a lot of it. I like everything about it except the flavor.”
The things I’ve learnt.
- Based on a novel by Herman Melville and found and released after his death. With it not being completely finished it underwent many edits and interpretations until it was considered the best transcription of what he would have intended.
- It would be adapted as a stage play and an opera before Sir Peter Ustinov would acquire the rights. He would then go on to produce, co-write, star and direct the movie.
- The film tackles the deep dark secret and problems with suppressed homosexuality. Though it doesn’t come out so to speak, keeping things ambiguous in nature. So you could just assume that its extreme jealousy and sadistic hatred that drives him as well.
- Terence Stamp does a grand job of hiding his cockney accent. With his incredible performance he netted himself a nomination for a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar. Also winning a Golden Globe for Most Promising Male Newcomer.
- There’s a super cast with in the crew. Melvyn Douglas plays the wise Danish sailmaker. David McCallum is the Gunnery Officer. Paul Rodgers and John Neville play First and Second Lieutenants. With Ronald Lewis, Thomas Heathcote, Ray McAnally, Robert Brown and the famous faced Australian John Meillon taking up some of the crew members.
- Check out the wonderful opening credit scene. As the actor’s name appear on-screen each actor voices their character’s name and rank in turn. Really sets the mood and is a great touch.
Billy Budd is an exceptional film. Terence Stamp gives a performance of a lifetime and you can see why when you watch it. You warm to the beautiful naive Billy as much as everyone else does on the ship. The filming aboard the ship is second to none. The tight living quarters, the hard work and struggle. The dirt, sweat and toughness of life on a 19th century war ship is unforgiving and expertly realised. The film will break your heart. It’s touching and moving and I can’t believe I hadn’t seen or heard of it before. It comes extremely recommended if you haven’t seen it but I’m sure most will have. If so let me know in the comments what you thought of it if you want to.
Thanks for popping in and seeing what Wolfman Mikey has been watching.