It is the sping of 1944 and the Americans are planning to invade German-held Rome from the Anzio beachhead. To establish whether the Germans are laying mines on the approaches to Rome, Captain Paul MacDougall (Charlton Heston) is sent to investigate.
Assigned as his radioman is Sergeant Joe Angelico (Harry Guardino) and they contact resistance leader Ciccio Massimo (Salvatore Baccaloni) who offers them shelter at his home in Rome.
His eldest daughter, Antonella (Elsa Martinelli) is reluctant because of food shortages, but submits in the hope that Paul or Joe will provide a husband for her pregnant sister Rosalba (Gabriella Pallotta).
It is Joe who falls for the sister (while Paul and Antonella pair off, also) and Antonella plans an Easter dinner at which to announce her sister’s engagement. She despairs of ever finding enough food for such a function, though, until she remembers that Paul has 23 carrier pigeons (the Americans are unable to use their radio due to the Nazis communication detection equipment).
At the dinner the air is filled with satisfied munching as guests, including Paul, eat what they imagine to be quail.
The meal is barely digested when Paul asks Ciccio to get him four pigeons ready to fly to the American beachhead with messages – but there is only one left!
To replace the devoured birds, Ciccio steals some German carrier pigeons. When Paul unsuspectingly puts four into flight bearing vital information, he is surprised to see them heading for the German lines!
Cancelling out the messages that thus fall into enemy hands calls for quick thinking on the part of Paul and Joe, and it is the participation of the one remaining American pigeon that unwittingly saves the day – and Rome.
The film’s exteriors were shot in Rome and the entire film – photographed in Panavision – exudes an infectious air of Italian sunshine and high spirits. It’s a fun-filled flight of fancy.
Captain Paul MacDougall/Benny the Snatch/Narrator
Sgt. Joseph Angelico
Col. Sherman Harrington