Billy Budd (film)

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Aye! He's quite a hand for jokes. Always cheerful, too. Always smiling, waving at people. Lovely little character.

Billy Budd is a 1962 film about the conflicts aboard the warship HMS Avenger, between a master-at-arms who enjoys punishing others and keeping them in states of fear, military officers who feel it is their duty to employ such means to control those they command, and an idealistic young sailor impressed into service aboard it from a merchant vessel, Rights of Man.

Directed by Peter Ustinov. Written by Peter Ustinov and DeWitt Bodeen, based on the novel of the same name by Herman Melville.
The Men!.. The Mutiny!...The Might!... The Magnitude Of Herman Melville's Classic Adventure of the High Seas!

Billy Budd[edit]

  • There are many ways to lie, Mr. Claggert, but there is only one way to tell the truth.

Captain Vere[edit]

  • Mr. Seymour, officers are to wear swords all the time from now on.
    • After the death of Jenkins
  • You have only two duties here — to fight and to obey.
  • Weigh what you speak, master-at-arms, there is the rope and the yardarm for false witness in peace as in war.
  • I am just a man, not fit to do the work of God... or the Devil.


  • Aye! He's quite a hand for jokes. Always cheerful, too. Always smiling, waving at people. Lovely little character.


Will you stand by the plank, mates, so I can shake a friendly hand before I sink?
The world demands that behind every peacemaker there be the gun, the gallows, the jail. Do you think it will always be so?
Lieutenant Seymour: They're talking about reform in the House of Commons.
Captain Nathaniel Graveling: [of Rights of Man] You know what that means — it means their reforms are nearly a century overdue.

Captain Nathaniel Graveling: God go with you, Billy Budd, for it's a fact that you go with God!
Billy Budd: [being pressed into service aboard the H.M.S. Avenger]: Right you are! Good-bye to you too ol' Rights of Man!

Billy Budd: [after witnessing a flogging] What was his crime?
Dansker: God only knows young man.
Billy Budd: You mean you don't know what he did?
Dansker: Flogging. Its the only solution to every problem. I warrant even the culprit himself doesn't know. It was just his turn.

Jenkins: [as Billy eats his first shipboard meal] Like it Billy? Taste good?
Billy Budd: It's hot and there's a lot of it. I like everything about it except the flavor.

Billy Budd: It's wrong to flog a man. I … d…d… [ pauses to hold back from stuttering] … It's against his being a man.
Jenkins: Aye! Aye, lad — it is that!
Dansker: Why do you stammer boy?
Billy Budd: Because I sometimes can't find the words … for what I feel.

Claggert: [coming in after a "friendly fight" between Jenkins and Budd] None of you have anything to say?
Dansker: It was nothing master-at-arms — a test of strength.
Claggert: You'll need your strength for the fighting to come, boy. Aye Budd, you do indeed make friends quickly. That's a good quality to have.

Captain Vere: A man of war does not come to life until it's in action. Will we acquit ourselves well? Or badly? What kind of a weapon have we forged? And when the time comes, will I know how to use it? Claggert is a force for order, Mr. Seymour — a force for order I must have.
Lieutenant Seymour: Sir, if he should be opposed to Budd's promotion?
Captain Vere: You know Seymour, there are some men who cannot stand too much perfection. They see it as a … as a disease, thus which must be stamped out at it's first rash showing.

William O'Daniel: [After Jenkins' burial at sea] Well, that's the end of Enoch Jenkins. Over the side he goes and his mates soon forget him.
Alan Payne: They'll not forget him so soon, I'm thinking.
Dansker: Ah, whatever happened to Jenkins, he ain't worried now. He got a hundred fathoms between him and the troubles of his life.
Billy Budd: I'd rather be buried at sea than on the shore when I come to die. Will you stand by the plank, mates, so I can shake a friendly hand before I sink?

Claggert: We must serve the law sir, or give up the right and privilege of service. it is only within that law that we may use our discretion according to our rank.
Captain Vere: Your so lucid and so intelligent for the rank you hold, Master-at-Arms.
Claggert: I thank you, Sir.
Captain Vere: Yes. That's no flattery, Mr. Claggert — it's a melancholy fact. It's sad to see such qualities of mind bent to such a sorry purpose. What's the reason for it?
Claggert: I am what I am, sir — and what the world has made me.
Captain Vere: The world? The world demands that behind every peacemaker there be the gun, the gallows, the jail. Do you think it will always be so?
Claggert: I have no reason not to, sir.
Captain Vere: You live without hope?
Claggert: I live.
Captain Vere: Then remember, Mr. Claggert, that even the man who wields the whip cannot defy the code we must obey — and not be broken by it. That will be all.

Captain Vere: In the question of Jenkins, Budd was telling the truth.
Lieutenant Seymour: I know, sir. What are you going to do about Claggart?
Captain Vere: What can I do but watch and wait? No court martial would do more than strip him of his rank for such misconduct. And then what? As a rating, he'd be slaughtered by the other men. And who would replace him? And would the French refrain from attacking us while we settled our petty differences? No, I must give him his head until some act puts him squarely counter to the law and then let the law consume him. What would you do if you were captain of this ship?
Lieutenant Seymour: I'm not captain of the ship, sir.
Captain Vere: One day you may be, Philip. Then, remember.

Billy Budd: Would it be alright if I stayed topside a little bit to watch the water?
Claggert: I suppose a handsome sailor may do many things forbidden to his mess-mates.
Billy Budd: Sea's calm tonight, i'nt it? Calm and peaceful.
Claggert: You've made a good impression on the captain, Billy Budd. You have a pleasant way with you.
Billy Budd: Oh, thank you sir.
Claggert: If you wish to make a good impression with me too however, you will need to curb your tongue.
Billy Budd: Now, sir?
Claggert: Not now. Can it be that you really don't understand my words? Is it ignorance or irony that makes you speak so simply?
Billy Budd: It must be ignorance, sir — because I don't understand the other word.

Billy Budd: In my ignorance, I could not guess the reason. I only knew the truth, and told it.
Claggert: The sea is calm you said. Peaceful. Calm above, but below a world of gliding monsters preying on their fellows. Murderers, all of them. Only the strongest teeth survive. And who's to tell me it's any different here on board, or yonder — on dry land? You knew my reputation, and yet you dared to speak what you called the truth. Why?
Billy Budd: I know some of the men are fearful of you, hate you. But I told them — you can't be as they think you are.
Claggert: Why not, pray?
Billy Budd: No man can take pleasure in cruelty.
Claggert: No? Tell me, do you fear the lash?
Billy Budd: [nods] Aye.
Claggert: And will you speak the truth again?
Billy Budd: I'm on my honor, sir. If the captain asks—
Claggert: [laughs grimly — and Budd joins in laughing] Why are you laughing boy?
Billy Budd: Laughter's good, sir. And it's good to hear you laugh.
Claggert: Laughter's good? Even the laughter of fools aimed at nothing?
Billy Budd: No, sir, you wouldn't laugh at nothing.
Claggert: What was I laughing at then?
Billy Budd: I don't know sir, but I think you were laughing at yourself.
Claggert: [puzzled and disturbed] Why would I laugh at myself?
Billy Budd: There's time when all men do — men as you would call men. They make mistakes and behave like fools.
Claggert: They do. Tell me in all ignorance do you dare understand me, then?
Billy Budd: [nods] I think so, sir.
Claggert: Why did Jenkins die?
Billy Budd: You did not wish his death.
Claggert: No, I did not.
Billy Budd: You didn't even hate him. I think that sometimes you hate yourself. I was thinking, sir, the nights are lonely. Perhaps I could talk with you between watches when you've nothing else to do.
Claggert: Lonely. What do you know of loneliness?
Billy Budd: Them's alone that want to be.
Claggert: Nights are long — conversation helps pass the time.
Billy Budd: Can I talk to you again, then? It would mean a lot to me.
Claggert: Perhaps to me, too. [his expression suddenly turns suspicious and sours] Oh, no. You would charm me too, huh? Get away.
Billy Budd: Sir?
Claggert: Get — away!

Dansker: There's a storm somewhere.
Claggert: Aye, old man. There's a storm somewhere.

Squeak: Hey, you know when you kept finding yourself on report? That was my doing — but I was only obeying orders — his orders — Claggerts.
Billy Budd: Claggerts? I thought it was you — out of spite.
Squeak: Me? I got no spite in me!

Squeak: I hate Claggert, for what, you don't realize — I hate him.
Billy Budd: You hate him?
Squeak: Yes, I do. Don't you?
Billy Budd: No.
Squeak: You don't? You must do!

Captain Vere: Give the lad his chance. You've made your accusation, master at arms. it is up to him to defend himself.
Claggert: With all due respect sir —
Captain Vere: Mr, Claggert!
Claggert: I don't think he can. It is not that he can't find the words — as that there are no words to find.

Lieutenant Seymour: Wyatt, we do not deal with justice here, but with the law.
Lieutenant Wyatt: Was not the one conceived to serve the other?

Lieutenant Seymour: Aye sir, that is your right.
Captain Vere: It's no right. Which one of us here have rights? It's my duty and I must perform it.


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