Sean Connery: “funny looking hill, nothing grows on it” Ian Hendry: “soldiers grow on that hill…they grow weary!”
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.
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 brutal Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry), humane Staff Sergeant Harris (Ian Bannen), Regimental Sergeant Major Wilson (Harry Andrews), and the camp’s Medical Officer (Michael Redgrave) as they struggle to run the camp in conflicting styles.