Sunday, May 15, 2016

Charming Billy

I went into Billy Budd (1962) blind - I've never read the book in school, knew nothing about the movie. But Terence Stamp in the title role was all I needed to know.

Billy Budd (Stamp) is a saintly young sailor during the Napoleonic War. He is taken from the merchant ship The Rights of Man to the warship Avenger. He was much loved on his old ship, but the new ship is a harsher place, with floggings administered for no good reason. Or maybe the reason is the pleasure that they give the master-at-arms, a puritan played by the reliably evil Robert Ryan.

Now the captain seems like a reasonable man - he's played by Peter Ustinov, who is also directing. I expected a more Capt. Bligh-like captain, maybe because of Ustinov's resemblance to Charles Laughton. The rest of the officers understand that Ryan is mad, and needs to be restrained. But it is wartime, and the strict naval discipline means that mutiny is never far off. So they let him have his way, leading to tragedy. Suffice it to say that Billy is a bit of a Christ figure.

It's an interesting role, all sweetness and light, everybody's friend, but strong enough to stand up to any bully. His only flaw is a stutter, which leads to his doom. This would make him a pretty unbelievable character, but, well, it's Terence Stamp. He could make you believe that he was that sweet, loving and innocent. That angelic face.

The movie is shot on a real ship (as far as I can tell) and looks great. So there's that for all you fans of seafaring tales. For fans of Man from U.N.C.L.E., David MacCallum has a small role.

1 comment:

mr. schprock said...

Read that book many, many years ago. Captain Vere? He was kind of a good guy as I recall. Claggert I think was the master, the bad guy. My professor made a big deal about a spilled bowl of soup representing orgasm. And, yes, Billy was a Christ symbol all right. Make no mistake about that.