(1956 b 107')
Based on a play by Norman Brooks, during a late battle in World War II an unstable captain fails to back up a platoon as he had promised and acts so irrationally that subordinates take charge.
In 1944 American soldiers are fighting in Europe. Lt. Joe Costa (Jack Palance) asks for support for his platoon that is advancing in a battle. He says they are being hit by mortars. Costa asks where Cooney is. A charging soldier is killed, and Sfc. Tolliver (Buddy Ebsen) says it is over.
Cpl. John Jackson (Jon Shepodd) brings a gallon can to get coffee, and soldiers make fun of him. In an office Capt. Erskine Cooney (Eddie Albert) asks Jackson if he got the coffee, and he tidies up the office. Lt. Harry Woodruff (William Smithers) comes in, and Cooney asks if Lt. Costa is coming. Woodruff goes out to fetch Costa. Lt. Col. Clyde Bartlett (Lee Marvin) comes in for the game and asks for some bourbon.
Costa is working as a blacksmith by a fire. In the office Cooney asks Bartlett if he brought the letter. Cooney says he is getting a citation, which he hopes will impress his father. Bartlett says he will help him get the citation. Woodruff tells Costa he has a plan to get Cooney out of the outfit; but Costa doubts it will work. Woodruff says Bartlett knows that Cooney is unreliable. Woodruff wants Bartlett to keep Cooney upstairs. Costa says it won’t work because Bartlett is like Cooney. Woodruff starts to leave alone, but Costa stops him and says he will play cards.
The four men play poker for money. Cooney tells Costa not to bait him. Bartlett gets Costa to admit it was a joke. Woodruff loses a hand to Bartlett and remembers a bad time in battle. Cooney said it was a hopeless situation, but Costa disagrees. Cooney gets angry and insults Costa, who stands up and is restrained by Woodruff. Costa leaves, and Bartlett tells Cooney to go outside and cool off. Cooney says he is sorry and goes out. Bartlett tells Woodruff not to spread it around. Woodruff tells Bartlett that their morale is in danger. Woodruff says the captain is a chicken. Woodruff asks permission to talk straight. Woodruff says Bartlett knows Cooney and that he cost lives at Aachen. Bartlett says he wants him to kick Cooney upstairs, but Bartlett says Cooney is important to him. Bartlett says they are not likely to see combat again. Bartlett gets a call and is told to report to the general.
Pfc. Bernstein (Robert Strauss) asks Costa if they are out of the fighting. Bernstein asks if he can get a section eight for being yellow; but Costa tells him to beat it. Woodruff tells Costa that Bartlett understands Cooney. He says word is they are out of the shooting. Costa warns that Cooney had better not goof again. Tolliver tells them they are going forward because of a breakthrough. Woodruff warns Costa that nothing had better happen to him.
In the office Bartlett instructs Cooney and Woodruff with a map. Bartlett leaves, and Cooney says Fox company has another tough job. Cooney sends Jackson out to get Costa. Cooney suggests to Woodruff a probe they could follow. Costa comes in, and Cooney says there are probably Krauts there. He tells Costa to outpost the town. Costa asks what will happen if he is in there with just one platoon. Cooney says he will be right behind in case of trouble. Costa asks Woodruff, who says he thinks it will work. Tolliver says they could be in for a hard time. Costa sends him out to get the men moving. Costa tells Cooney his men will not end up in a ringer. Cooney repeats he will back him up. Costa asks Woodruff if he will back them up, and he says he will. Costa warns Cooney that if he loses another man because of him, Cooney will not return to the States. Costa threatens to kill Cooney with a grenade.
Costa and his platoon march off on a dirt road. They see a bombed out village, and Costa says it is too quiet. Costa tells them to stay off the road because of mines. He sends them in at intervals. Pvt. Abramowitz (Judson Taylor) says he has the radio. They advance walking and spread apart. Costa and Tolliver lead the way. The Germans begin shooting at them, and they start running forward. Three men are shot. Some Germans go into a cellar. The Americans enter the farmhouse and rest. Pvt. Snowden (Richard Jaeckel) throws a grenade into the cellar. Bernstein is out of breath and says they are out of condition because of too many cigarettes. Costa is upset that they got Lucas. Costa says they won’t rush them there. They ask Costa what they will do. He says they will sit tight until others come. Pfc. Ricks (James Goodwin) says he thinks he saw someone. Tolliver sends Bernstein out front to look around.
Cooney is told that Costa is on the radio, and he tells Woodruff to take it. Costa says the town is heavily occupied. Costa says they lost men, and they are pinned. Tolliver asks where the support is. Costa asks where the rest of the company is. Woodruff tells Cooney that Costa is pinned. Cooney wonders if they can handle it. Woodruff says they have to go in, but Cooney wants to call for artillery. Woodruff says they have a job to do; he tells Cooney he gave Costa his word. Cooney says he doesn’t care.
Snowden and Bernstein have rigged up a dummy to draw fire. Tolliver aims at the steeple and kills the sniper. Costa slugs Ricks and puts him back on watch, warning him he will beat him up next time. Costa radios for support, and he learns from Woodruff they are stuck. Two Germans in the cellar are captured. Costa asks Otto (Steven Geray) if there are panzers. The German captain is SS and says they are dead. The captain reminds Costa of the Geneva Convention. Costa pushes him outside, and he is shot dead by the Germans. Otto admits there are panzers. Costa radios Woodruff. Ricks sees a tank. Costa tells Woodruff there are tanks; he says they are pulling out, and he requests artillery and smoke cover. Costa says to tell Cooney he is coming back. Costa tells his men not to stop for anyone. Costa says they will run the Kraut in front of them because division intelligence will need him. Costa sends the German in front of Bernstein. Then he pushes out Ricks, and he is wounded. Snowden goes next. Tolliver tells Costa not to wait to long and runs out past Ricks. Tanks are moving up. Costa prays and runs out. He stops and asks Ricks where he is hit. He picks him up and carries him. They stop. Ricks says he fouled up, and then he dies.
Woodruff hears a man moaning. Tolliver, Bernstein, and Snowden arrive with the German. Cooney asks where Costa is. Tolliver says Ricks and Costa must have been lost. Woodruff radios division about the prisoner and is asked how many tanks. Cooney says Costa was his best platoon leader, and he hits the German in the stomach. Cooney is drinking bourbon and offers some to Tolliver, who says no. Tolliver implies he will not drink with another man unless he respects him. Woodruff says the tanks are coming, and he asks Cooney what they should do. Cooney says they will fall back. Bartlett comes in and asks Cooney why he is not forward. Cooney says he sent in one platoon. Bartlett says his company should be in there. Bartlett tells Cooney to stick there and hold until they are relieved. Woodruff wants to talk about the command of the company. Bartlett sends out Woodruff and tells Cooney he is letting him command because of his father. Bartlett threatens him with Leavenworth. Cooney asks why he won’t relieve him. Cooney wants him to send him back. Bartlett slaps Cooney and says he hates him. Woodruff tells Bartlett he can’t leave Cooney in command. Woodruff says he will go to the general if he lives. Bartlett leaves. Woodruff tells Cooney what they will do, and he calls him a criminal who got nineteen men killed. Cooney cries and says he does not have the guts to live or die. Cooney says he is scared of his father and lays on his bed mumbling. Woodruff tells him to stay there, and he will take care of things. Costa comes in and asks where Cooney is. Woodruff tells Costa not to foul up. Costa says four men are dead. Costa holds a gun on Woodruff and threatens to shoot him. Jackson comes in and says they have to go.
The German tanks are advancing. Costa shoots a bazooka at one, limps forward, knocks out a German, and throws a grenade inside. Tolliver says another tank is coming. Costa limps into a building. The tank kills a man. Costa has a bazooka, but it won’t fire. The tank runs over his arm. A German gets out and is shot. Inside Bernstein tells Snowden and Tolliver that he has busted leg. Bernstein says they are falling back to the church. Bernstein asks them not to leave him to the SS. The men make a stretcher for Bernstein, and they carry him. Cooney with a rifle comes in and says they are holding there. They hide and hear two Germans talking. Cooney tells Woodruff they are cut off and should surrender. Cooney says he is the officer, and he is trying to save lives. Cooney raises his hands and sees Costa come in with a crushed arm. Costa is weak and collapses. Cooney moves the revolver with his foot and laughs at Costa, who prays he may go to hell before—and then he dies. Woodruff tells Cooney not to go up the stairs, or he will kill him. Cooney grabs a rifle and says he is still in command. Cooney starts to go up the stairs, and Woodruff kills him. Woodruff asks Sfc. Tolliver to arrest him, but Tolliver says the Krauts killed him. He says what happened there is different than what it would sound like in a court martial. Bernstein said it was the most just thing. Tolliver asks Woodruff if he would have turned Costa in if he had done it. Tolliver, Bernstein, and Jackson each shoot Cooney’s body. Tolliver asks who killed Cooney. Snowden comes in and says there are tanks, and the colonel is coming. Bartlett comes in and asks Woodruff how he was cut off. He commends the company for holding. Bartlett asks where the captain is, and he sees Cooney’s body. They say Cooney died like a soldier. The others leave, and Bartlett asks Woodruff what happened to Cooney. Bartlett says he will make Woodruff a captain. Bartlett says he will put Cooney in for a medal. Woodruff says it is his neck, and he says he killed him. Bartlett tells him he needs a rest. The burial crew arrives, and Bartlett and Woodruff walk out. Woodruff tells Bartlett that he set up the whole thing. They see Costa’s body being carried out. Bartlett says he was a good man, and they will get a medal for him too. Bartlett says Woodruff will not tell the general because he has too much to lose. Bartlett leaves, and Woodruff walks over to the two bodies. Woodruff tells Costa what he has to do. Woodruff goes to the radio and calls the general.
This war drama reflects the insanity and hell of humans killing each other in battles. The US military refused to cooperate at all with this film. The story reveals that a psychologically unbalanced person in a leadership position in time of war can cause the deaths of many people.