Herman Melville's short novel Billy Budd
is adapted for the screen in this 1962 film, which is distinguished by Robert Krasker
's expressive black-and-white cinematography and Peter Ustinov
's crisp direction. Terence Stamp
is Billy Budd, a seaman forced to serve in the British Navy during the war between England and France in 1797. Billy looks upon all men as inherently good and, although his crew mates are initially skeptical about this sailor who appears too good to be true, he proves his mettle by his skills as a sailor and gains the respect of the crew -- all except for the ship's reviled master-at-arms John Claggert (Robert Ryan
), who attempts to poison Billy's reputation by accusing him of instigating a mutiny. When the ship's captain, Edward Vere (Peter Ustinov) questions Billy about the charges, Billy reacts by striking Claggert, who falls over and dies from a blow on the head. A court-martial is called and Vere has to determine whether Billy should be hanged or acquitted.