In 1942 at Freetown, Sierra Leone the British police chief Harry Scobie (Trevor Howard) goes on board a ship and finds the Portuguese captain (George Coulouris) lost a file. Back in his office the police commissioner (Michael Hordern) tells “Scobie the Just” he is being replaced by someone coming from Gambia. Harry gets a phone call from his wife and then burns a letter to Frau Maria Gonner in Leipzig. Harry goes home and admits to his wife Louise (Elizabeth Allan) that he is being passed over for commissioner. Harry says he cannot retire during the war. She asks if she can go to South Africa. In town Harry and his men rescue an African who was thrown into a gutter. At home Harry tells Louise the bank won’t give them the money, and she cries. She says he does not love her.
In the garden Louise asks Wilson (Denholm Elliott) why he is not in the army, and he kisses her. In the house Harry tells them he has to go to Pemberton, and he leaves in a van. On the way Harry asks Ali for whiskey in his tea. They take a ferry across a river. Rev. Clay greets Harry, who looks at the dead body of Pemberton. Harry orders a sergeant to dig a grave. Harry reads a letter about the death, gets upset, and calls for Ali, who helps him lay down. In bed Harry talks to himself. Yusef (Gérard Oury) arrives and comforts Harry. Yusuf says they will send a spy because of diamond smuggling. Yusuf offers to help Harry in his difficulty with a bribe of £200 or £300.
At home Harry tells Louise he has a fever and of the suicide. Louise says Mrs. Halifax offered her a berth to the Cape, but Harry says he will buy her a ticket. At the dock Father Rank (Peter Finch) tells Harry he is doing the right thing. Harry thanks Wilson for the flowers, but Louise has gone.
The commissioner calls Harry and says he has to go to Pende in Gambia. There he meets Newall, Forbes, Miss Malcot, and Wilson. Two sick children and young Helen Rolt (Maria Schell) are carried on stretchers. Mrs. Bowles asks Harry to read to them, but he makes up a pirate story. The next day Wilson tells Harry he is investigating diamond smuggling. Wilson suggests Yusef is protected, and he tells Harry he kissed Louise.
On a rainy day Harry goes to a house in Freetown that is showing a light, and he finds Helen in pajamas. They talk over a drink, and she tells about school until the all-clear is sounded. In his office Harry meets Col. Wright from MI5. They discuss diamond smuggling, and Yusef and Harry are suspected. Harry goes to see Yusef and asks him if he framed another man. Yusef admits the diamonds are his, and Harry says goodbye. Yusef wants to remain friends.
Harry takes stamps to Helen for her collection and asks about her husband. He says his daughter died and that death ends pain. She says she stills dreams about her late husband. Helen does not answer the door, and Harry kisses her. Father Rank calls on Harry and has a drink. He says he helps only the dying. Harry says he does not get into trouble. Harry visits Helen, who is upset he only comes there in the dark. Harry says he can’t marry her because of his wife, and she cries. Harry writes a short love note and puts it under her door. Ali picks it up.
Wilson learns that Louise is returning. At a party Helen, Mrs. Bowles, Wilson, and Harry discuss suicide. On the veranda Helen tells Harry she did not get his letter. At home Ali gives Harry a kind letter from Helen. Yusef is there and asks Harry to give a small package to a ship captain, but Harry refuses. Yusef tells Harry he has the love letter to Helen and says he will give it to Louise unless he delivers the package. —Sanderson Beck
Howard is magnificent as tormented West African police chief Scobie in an atmospheric version of Greene's novel. His regular theme of guilt, particularly Catholic guilt, is to the fore as Howard struggles to come to terms with the death of his daughter, the dying of his love for his wife and the temptations provided by a widowed shipwreck survivor. Highly recommended, especially for the exceptional lead performance..