Based on Joseph Kessel’s novel, an American weapons smuggler is caught between the French colonial army and the Syrian insurgency.
In Damascus, Syria in 1925 insurgent leader Emir Hassan (Onslow Stevens) tells English journalists they are fighting for their freedom. General LaSalle (Everett Sloane) says the French army’s occupation is based on a League of Nations mandate. He plans to kill five hostages for every French soldier killed. Col. Feroud (Lee J. Cobb) disagrees and volunteers to meet with Hassan to try to arrange a cease-fire. LaSalle is persuaded to give it a try but sends Lt. Collet instead because Feroud is too valuable.
Harry Smith (Humphrey Bogart) and Syrian businessmen selling food wait to meet with Col. Feroud, who gives them his price list. Balukjiaan (Zero Mostel) complains, and only Smith readily agrees.
Smith joins his friend Nasir Aboud (Nick Dennis) in a cafe and buys bracelets off an exotic dancer. A Syrian flower peddler places three grenades under a table with French officers and leaves before they explode. Violette (Marta Torén) was with Feroud who goes out to investigate, and in the aftermath Smith helps her recover.
Smith goes to the insurgents to collect his money for the arms, but some were not delivered. The French find smuggled rifles hidden under dried apricots. Smith buys a fine bracelet, and Nasir takes it to Violette, pretending that she lost it.
Feroud questions Balukjiaan, who protests his innocence but agrees to help find the gun smuggler. Smith calls on Violette and boldly enters without an invitation while she is in a bathrobe. She realizes he bought the bracelet for her and refuses to drink with him. Smith keeps trying but she makes him leave. Balukjiaan visits Nasir and discovers his extra dried apricots and connects Smith to them.
Violette is bored with Feroud and wants to go back to Cairo, but he loves her and will not get her a pass to leave Damascus. When she says she is leaving him, Feroud hits her and then apologizes. She goes to Smith and asks him to take her to Cairo. Nasir warns Smith about Balukjiaan, and Smith packs to leave. Violette persuades him to let her go with him. They get a car working; but the French show up, and Smith flees. The insurgents refuse to help Smith. Feroud has Violette taken home. Smith hides out.
LaSalle tells Feroud that Collet’s throat was cut. Feroud finds out where Smith is and tells him he could be shot for smuggling guns. Feroud offers him a pass to leave if he will take him to Hassan. Smith takes Feroud to them and tells Violette that he will be killed. Smith has no money but offers to go with her to Cairo.
Smith goes to get his pass and is taken to LaSalle. Smith suggests they pay £10,000 for Feroud. Smith agrees to show them the way and goes with Major Leon (Gerald Mohr). Hassan accepts the deal, and Feroud asks for a truce to talk. Hassan says he is a dreamer and a fool. Smith delivers the money, and the insurgents suspect he is working for the French. Smith offers to buy them grenades in Cairo; but as he is leaving, they blow him up with one. Feroud hopes he persuaded Hassan to be a fool too.
This under-rated drama portrays the tough reality of the Middle East fighting back against Western imperialism. The cynical American has made money and his own desires his top values. In a violent struggle for power everyone involved loses.