In a Nazi-occupied town a small resistance prints an alternative newspaper and commits some sabotage, leading to a shy teacher defending their methods in court at the risk of his own life.
The German army occupies a European town. Albert Lory (Charles Laughton) tells his mother Emma (Una O'Connor) he will burn the Liberty paper but keeps it. Paul Martin (Kent Smith) turns one in to the soldiers. Teachers Albert and Louise Martin (Maureen O'Hara) tell their students to tear out pages as ordered. During an air raid Louise leads singing, but afterward Albert confesses to professor Sorel (Philip Merivale) he is a coward. Paul shows Major Erich von Keller (Walter Slezak) a faulty railroad switch, and von Keller calls it an accident. George Lambert (George Sanders) supports von Keller. The Germans find the printing press and arrest two men. Paul throws a bomb that kills two soldiers, and he flees over roofs. Louise sees her brother Paul is wounded and is proud of him. Von Keller suspects that Sorel wrote for the paper and has him arrested. Louise appeals to von Keller and argues with him. Von Keller knows she is going to marry George and says if the killer confesses, the innocent won't be killed. Louise says George is wrong.
Albert gives Louise flowers. An explosion is heard, and Paul comes in. Albert tells the soldiers that Paul was there. In the morning Albert is taken hostage by the soldiers. Mrs. Lory tries to complain and goes to George, who tells collaborating Mayor Henry Manville (Thurston Hall) that Paul is the saboteur. Paul runs, fights a soldier, jumps on a train, and is shot. Albert is welcomed home by his mother, but he says Sorel was not released. Albert goes to Louise, who says that Paul was killed because of him. Albert's mother says she told George. Von Keller tries to reassure George and asks him to turn in Louise. George shoots himself. Albert comes in and is seen with the gun.
Albert is prosecuted but has no lawyer. He tells the jury that George killed himself and explains why. Von Keller visits George in jail and says he is not a coward. Von Keller says he will be acquitted if he speaks no more in court. Albert sees Sorel and eight others shot. Evidence of George's suicide is presented, but Albert says it was forged. Albert speaks of how von Keller tempted him, but seeing Sorel happy before he died changed Albert's mind. He says that sabotage shortens their slavery. Albert describes the collaborators and says the new order is based on lies. Albert says he loves Louise. The jury finds him not guilty. Albert reads to his class from the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Soldiers arrest him, but he tells Louise he is happy and gives her the book. She reads it to her class.
Refugee Jean Renoir directed this drama of heroic resistance
to tyranny. The courageous actions of others helped the teacher
realize that he did not have to be a coward.