The story takes place in the closing days of World War II. The US Army has organized a clandestine unit of turncoat German POWs to go back into Germany, and gather intelligence. Richard Basehart plays a US Army Lieutenant in charge of one such team. Oskar Werner plays a German POW who volunteers after witnessing the murder of a fellow POW who was declared a defeatist.
The team is parachuted into Germany and split up. Werner is assigned to get intelligence on the troop strength of units facing the US Army across the Rhine River. While waiting in line to catch a bus, a wehrmacht motorcycle courier offers him a ride and a place to stay overnight. After some conversation the courier gets suspicious and informs the Gestapo about Werner. From then on Werner is a marked man. Suspecting he is being followed, he confronts and kills the man assigned to keep track of him. After almost being caught by the gendarme it's a race to the location where the team was supposed to meet and then try escape back across the river to the Allies. I won't go into much detail about the ending in the event some readers would be motivated to see this film, but I can say that the ending is much like the rest of the movie, in a word - grim.
What makes this film so gripping and mesmerizing is that it was filmed shortly after WWII in Germany. The cities were still devastated and it has the look as if it is being filmed real time. Of course, it's in black and white. The mood is frenetic - air raids, artillery bombardment, fire engine bells clanging, sirens blaring, and refugees on the move. It is one of the few war films in existence that conveys the true feeling of a country turned upside down and the ordinary people trying to make sense out of it all. Also making one of his early cinematic appearances (15 seconds) is Klaus Kinski. More on Kinski at a later date I realize my taste in cinema is markedly different from most people, but I've learned that like most things in life if approached with an open mind, you can reap huge benefits and maybe start exploring outside your comfort zone.