The setting is North Africa early in World War II. Two British officers, played by Curd Jürgens and Richard Burton, lead a commando team into the desert to attack a German post. Commander Jürgens doesn't know, but comes to suspect, that his wife (Ruth Roman) and Burton were involved sometime before Jürgens married her. The mission recedes into the background as the tension between the two men builds, and issues of ethics, cowardice, and the legitimacy of wartime killing are thrown into relief against the anvil of the desert. Jurgens was an opaque actor, but Burton etches a searingly modern portrait of an alienated soul whose mordant self-awareness avails him nothing; it's right up there with such Ray-directed landmark performances as James Dean's in Rebel Without a Cause and Humphrey Bogart's in In a Lonely Place.