Following the resounding critical and artistic success of Ciociara, De Sica and Zavattini take the risk of adapting this existential play by Jean-Paul Sartre, and return to the themes of war and Nazism. Their approach to the film is a far cry from neorealism or popular cinema, as they create a deeply involving psychological drama. The first-rate cast boasts three Oscar-winners: Sophia Loren, Maximilian Schell and Fredric March. De Sica would come to consider the film somewhat of a false move in his career, above all because of it was less successful than hoped of. However, it is one of those apparent failures that over time has revealed an unexpected and surprising depth. Sophia Loren steps out of her typically fiery Neapolitan character to embrace a far darker and more complex role, revealing previously unseen nuances. The film is brimming over with a lacerating sense of tension and inner conflict, making it a unique work in the careers of both De Sica and Zavattini. It is an important piece to fully comprehend their richness as artists.
Franz, a former Nazi officer and the son of a rich businessman, lives hidden away in a family home in the borough of Altona in Hamburg, to escape being brought to justice. He believes that Germany is still occupied by foreign troops and reduced to rubble. When he meets his sister-in-law, Johanna, an actress in a production of an anti-Nazi play by Brecht, she opens his eyes to the real situation in which the country finds itself. He leaves his hiding place and is arrested. However, he is subsequently released thanks to the actions of Johanna. He will end his life by throwing himself off some scaffolding on one of this father’s construction sites.