In a world gone mad with war, Private Plumpick
is a man on a suicide mission -- sent alone by his
commander, (except for his trusty carrier pigeons), to save
a French town that the Germans have abandoned ahead of the
Allied advance. Once there, he discovers that the only
inhabitants left are a merry crowd of happily deranged
asylum inmates, who have emerged into the deserted town to
take on the roles of the absent townfolk. We have a mad
barber, a mad madam, a mad clergyman, mad nobles, a mad
General, and most delightful, a beautiful tightrope walker
who is mad about life.
But the real madness has
been perpetrated by sane people -- the Germans have planted
a huge bomb at the center of the town, that is scheduled to
go off at midnight. Although his superiors have ordered him
to disarm the bomb, Plumpick doesn't know how, and attempts
to lead the mad villagers out of the town to safety. But
they won't go, because they are frightened to leave the
town, the only safety they know.
So Plumpick is stuck. He has to defuse the bomb, and utterly
without help, because none of the crazy villagers can take
his endeavor seriously. In a farcical climax, Plumpick
succeeds in his mission, saving the town from destruction,
and all of his new friends into the bargain. But the story
is not over -- the truly crazy people have yet to appear on
The Germans, mystified by the failure of their bomb to
explode, march into town to investigate. The Allies,
astonished that Plumpick has succeeded in his mission, march
into town to take it over. When the opposing armies meet,
they behave as they must, engaging in mutual slaughter, to
the horror of the inmates, who had been enjoying the company
of the Allied soldiers until the moment when nationalistic
duty turned them back into madmen.
The carnage concluded, and the town made safe again by the
sacrifice of military lives, the townspeople return, and
before them like a retreating wave, the inmates return to
the asylum, leaving behind their garments and mundane roles.
As for Plumpick, he's found his place in the world, and it's
not on the field of battle.