Written and directed by René Clair, two convicts escape from prison, and one becomes a successful owner of a large factory. The other wants to marry one of the employees, and his friend tries to help him. Gangsters threaten to turn in the owner unless he shares his wealth.
Prisoners are making toy horses on an assembly-line as they sing. Suddenly they all stand up and then march out past guards. In another room at long tables they are eating soup. Louis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand) are locked in a cell together. At night they get up, and Emile climbs on top of Louis’s shoulders and uses a wire to cut the bar in the window. He cuts his arm and comes down, and Louis bandages his arm. Louis throws a hook on the end of a rope over the top of the wall and climbs up. As Emile starts to go up, they hear a whistle. The hook comes off the rope, and Emile tells Louis to run for it. Guards come and arrest Emile.
Outside Louis knocks down a bicycler and takes his bicycle. He rides it and is greeted at the finish line of a race as the winner. He avoids having his picture taken.
In a music shop Louis is trying on shoes and asks the proprietor if has hankies. The man goes to look, and Louis gags himself and calls for help. The proprietor asks which way he went, and Louis points for him and others to follow. Then he goes the other way.
Louis is working in a music shop and plays records. While he is standing outside, a customer drops his wallet, and Louis picks it up and gives it back to him. He invites a lady to come in the store and look.
At the Palace of Records wealthy Louis pauses outside and gets in his limosine.
Men come to work at a factor and punch time clocks on the way in. Inside men are seated on an assembly line. At one time they are all replaced by other men and leave.
Outside Emile is laying in a field. Two guards ask him why he is not at work.
A teacher is instructing children in school about work.
The two guards arrest Emile, and he takes a flower for his lapel. Emile is alone in his cell and looks at the flower. He hears a woman singing and looks out his window and sees a woman in her window. He ties a rope to the bars and makes a loop, which he puts around his neck. He tries to hang himself, but the bars come loose, opening the window. He climbs out and lands next to a bum, who tries to fight him. A policeman breaks up the fight, and Emile looks up at the woman. Then he realizes it was a record. He talks to a woman on the street. A man comes out and kicks him in the rear, walking off with his niece. Emile runs and is chased. He hides in a line and goes with the men into a factory. He is being tested and tries to leave but is stopped. Outside a boss give orders to his line of men. Emile sees the woman and gives her his flower. The boss makes him get back in line. The boss makes the line march.
Inside Emile is working on an assembly line. He and two other men keep trying to help others. The man in charge tries to kiss the woman, who avoids him. Emile tells her they have gone crazy, and he asks why she is crying. The boss blows his whistle and questions workers. Each man points to the man on his right. Finally he sees Emile talking with the woman and makes him take his place. A handkerchief moves along the line, and Emile tries to retrieve it but can’t. He runs outside and is chased in another door. He is captured, and they stand at attention for rich Louis coming down the stairs. Emile smiles at him and says hello to him. He asks Louis if he remembers Emile. Louis says he must have something to tell him. A man tells Louis they need to know one more thing. Louis goes into another room with Emile. Louis points a small gun at Emile, who stands up and turns away. He sees the woman outside and tries to leave. At the door Louis threatens to shoot him. He hands money to Emile and tells him to take it, threatening him again with the gun. Louis uses his handkerchief to bandage a wound on Emile’s hand. They embrace and celebrate their liberty.
Two old men look at the portrait of Louis. Older women call a younger woman a floozy. Louis walks out of the factory with his arm around Emile.
Workers are eating at a table. In another room Emile is dining with people in formal attire. A man sings while another plays violin. Cake is being served, and some is spilled on their shoulders. Servants try to clean them up. Emile laughs. Emile and Louis are left alone with the musicians and then leave too. Louis tells Emile that his suit fits him. They horse around, and the young woman reprimands Louis. They throw things at the portrait of Louis.
Emile wakes up Louis on a couch and goes out the front door. Jeanne drives off with the handsome man. Emile takes a bouquet to the woman at the factory who is working in an office. The flowers are thrown out on the ground, and Emile denies they are his. A man tries to use them to gain the attentions of the woman but fails. Emile takes the flowers and gives them back to her. Louis is giving orders for work. Emile comes in, and Louis dismisses the others. Louis tells Emile to get out and stay away from the plant. Emile says he wants to stay because he is in love with the girl who works there. Louis writes down Emile’s number and sends it in a tube. Louis summons her Uncle (Paul Ollivier) and tells him that Emile wants to marry his niece. Louis writes a check for her dowry for Emile, who shakes hands with the Uncle. The girl is summoned, and Emile follows her but is too shy to say what he wants. She is told that a friend of Louis wants to marry her, but she says no. Louis says she will change her mind. Her Uncle tries to persuade her.
Outside Louis tells Emile it will work out all right, and the Uncle invites Emile to his home. Emile gets in the limosine. Emile waves at the Uncle and the girl and gets in the limosine too. At his door Louis tells Emile that tomorrow he inaugurates his new plant. Louis goes in and calls Joseph and Firmin, but no one comes. He stands by a table and hears applause. He finds a servant bound and gagged. He goes into another room where gangsters are applauding. Another servant is bound. A gangster shows Louis a photo of himself as a prisoner, and Louis sets it on fire. Louis offers him some money, and the gangster sets it on fire. He says if they blab, he loses his fortune. They want his fortune. A bound servant lets in police. Louis tells the police it was a practical joke, and they leave. Louis sits down at the table with the six gangsters.
Emile on the street looks at the girl in her window. Her Uncle stands with Emile, and she waves at them. Two police ask Emile for his papers, and he runs off, chased by them.
Louis lets the six gangsters out a door, and they find themselves trapped in a room. Louis is putting money from a cupboard in a suitcase. Emile comes, and Louis tells him to close the door. Officers come in and say a man escaped from the plant. Emile tries to escape and lets out the six gangsters. A man finds the case of money and takes it. Louis asks Emile where the case is. The police catch the six gangsters in a room. The man puts the bag up and tries to climb out, but police grab him and leave the case. The leader of the six warns Louis that if they are arrested, then he will be also. They are arrested. Louis and Emile watch them leave.
Louis is giving a speech at the inauguration of his new plant. An old man cuts the garland and lifts the switch that starts the operation. The old man makes an oration about a great philanthropist.
The six gangsters are telling authorities about the criminal Louis. In his speech Louis explains that they introduce materials, and they are transformed by machines. Louis sees a detective and becomes worried. At the station police plan how they will arrest Louis. They get in a car. Louis says this factory is his crowning achievement and that he is leaving. Workers cheer, and Emile has on his working uniform with his number. The old man quotes a poet as Louis is leaving. Wind is blowing the money that was in the case. Louis catches some of it and runs off. Men try to catch the money. The old man is left alone.
The factory is making things while men are playing games and fishing. Women dancing with men sing about the life of idleness. In old clothes Emile and Louis will not marry because they are on the road. Louis picks up some coins and shares them with Emile. They run down the road happily.
This farce satirizes the monotony of factory work that is like being in prison. Yet automation holds out the promise of people having more idle time to do other things while machines do the work. The two men realize they are happy being poor and free rather than wealthy with much work to do.