Thursday, December 27, 2007


"We do not deal with justice here, but with the law"

There's one very good thing about getting into classic films - there's a whole lot of gems out there waiting for you.

Just a short blurb about a flick called The Kingdom. Mrs. Lipstick and I sat down to watch this dog tonight and I seldom stop before experiencing the whole production, but dumped it after about fifteen minutes. It wasn't the a priori acceptance of 9/11 lies or the stumblebum rush to present Good vs Evil. We stopped watching because if we wanted to experience shaky camera work with headache inducing editing and cartoonish characters then we'll turn on one of the gazillion available crappy TV crime dramas.

The Melville novella turned stage play turned big screen Billy Budd, from 1962, was directed by Peter Ustinov. He also starred in it with Robert Ryan, John Neville, Melvyn Douglas and ridiculously young looking Terence Stamp and David McCallum. Shot entirely on a restored man o' war vessel it tells the tale of a merchantman impressed into service aboard a British warship who confronts a truly sick officer with dire results. Magnificent acting from all and a tour de force from director Ustinov. Apparently the author wrote the book inspired by his brother who presided over a sailor's court martial who faced hanging for insubordination.

It's a simple story but an astoundingly deep one nonetheless, for when the saintly Budd kills the lying weasel of an officer, dependably played by a snarling Ryan, it forces everyone on board the ship to make hard decisions. Do you follow orders and play by the strict letter, if not the spirit, of the law or do you make decisions based on what's right and just regardless of what the law dictates? This film reminded me of a similarly sparse outing from a few years earlier called "12 Angry Men" with Henry Fonda, only in reverse. On board the warship messiah-like sailor Budd is revered by all so who can blame him for the unintentional death of a universally hated captain of arms? In Fonda's court deliberation room most of the jury finds it an easy no brainer to call a slum kid a murderer. But wait. In both cases some pesky details force a lot more soul searching than reaching for expeditious or expedient decisions.

On board ship the situation is compounded by the fact Britain is in a war with France and the captain makes decisions with that reality in mind. Discipline is everything to the people in charge during tough times like that - if the crew has to undergo hardships, punishment and loss of liberty, well, everybody must realize they're at war and the enemy could show up at any time.

Where have we heard that before?

That quote at the top is said by one of the guys who decides the sailor's fate. We're all going to have to make very tough decisions very soon. The law of the land has been subverted by lawless criminals. They've taken over the government and are busy passing unconstitutional and illegal laws which at some point in the not too distant future we will have to choose whether to obey or not. We're going to be in the same uncomfortable position as the officers at Billy Budd's tribunal. Are we going to stick to rules we know aren't just, or are we going to do what's right?


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