In a British Army "glasshouse" (military detention camp) in the Libyan Desert, prisoners convicted of service offences such as insubordination, being drunk whilst on duty, going AWOL or petty theft etc. are subjected to repetitive drill in the blazing desert heat.
The arrival of five new prisoners slowly leads to a clash with the camp authorities. One new NCO guard who has also just arrived employs excessive punishments, which include forcing the five newcomers to repeatedly climb a man-made hill in the centre of the camp. When one dies, a power struggle erupts between the camp's Medical Officer (Michael Redgrave), the Regimental Sergeant Major Wilson (Harry Andrews), and a pair of brutal Staff Sergeants, Harris (Ian Bannen) and Williams (Ian Hendry), as they attempt to shift blame.
Roberts (Sean Connery) is a former Squadron Sergeant Major from the Royal Tank Regiment, convicted of assaulting his Commanding Officer - the reasons for which he explains to his fellow inmates. The RSM is a career soldier who sees his task as breaking down failed men, then building them back up again, in his words, "into men!"
Staff Sergeant Williams is new to the prison, and his ambition is matched only by his cruel treatment of the prisoners; he seeks to use their suffering as means for promotion. "And what are you supposed to be," Roberts asks him when he is accused of cowardice in battle, "a brave man in a permanent base job?" The RSM seems to agree; in another scene, he slyly mentions the fact that the Germans were bombing the UK (including the civilian prison Williams worked at) just as Williams was volunteering for prison duty in Africa.
Staff Sergeant Harris is the conscience of the prison who sympathizes with the men, too closely, according to the RSM. The officers of the piece, both the CO (Norman Bird) and the Medical Officer, take their duties casually and, as Roberts points out, "everyone is doing time here, even the screws." wiki
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