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Nine Men (1943)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

England, a Battle Training Ground. Sgt. Watson puts a new platoon of enlistees through an assault course, followed by drill. Back at barracks, the men complain of blisters and are impatient to reach the front. Sgt. Watson warns them to be prepared and complete their training. He tells them a story from his own experience in the Middle East...

North Africa. Watson is in a lorry with an officer, Lt. Crawford, and seven men, when the vehicle becomes stuck in the sand. While the lorry's crew try to free it, they come under attack from enemy aircraft. Crawford and Charlie Johnstone are hit, while the lorry catches fire. They salvage what they can before it explodes. Carrying the wounded, they march across the desert.

A sandstorm gets up, and they struggle on, until they come across a hut. Establishing that it is deserted, they go inside. But the journey has taken it out of the Lieutenant; he orders Watson to hold the hut until relief arrives - if it does - then dies.

Later, a party of Italians approaches. A few shots force the enemy to retreat, but Watson knows they will return in the morning. Next day, Watson takes stock. Johnstone is badly hurt. They have rifles and pistols, an anti-tank rifle, a little ammunition and a few grenades.

Johnstone, becoming delirious, begs for water. The men each offer a few drops from their limited supply, but the mess tin is hit by an enemy bullet, spilling the water on the sand. The enemy advances and the men prepare themselves. The Italians have a feeble armoured vehicle and Jock Scott disables it with the anti-tank rifle. Judicious firing forces the enemy to retreat. As the men celebrate their temporary victory, they notice that Johnstone is dead.

An Italian messenger approaches under a white flag. Watson refuses a request to surrender, but agrees to an hour's truce to bury the dead. He estimates the Italians are about sixty strong and begins planning for an expected night assault. Parker and Lee will be posted in a ditch outside to distract the enemy, making enough noise for several men. With Scott, Watson will go and search for water and supplies. Hill and the 'Young 'un' will patrol the outside of the hut. He tells Joe Harvey to try to fetch reinforcements.

Night falls and they set off. Harvey stumbles upon enemy troops and is surrounded. Watson and Scott come upon two Italian soldiers attempting to fix the armoured vehicle. Parker and Lee are approached by an enemy party and they scream and shout and throw grenades. Meanwhile, Watson and Scott creep up and overpower the two Italians. A third man emerges from the vehicle and they force him to reveal the water and supplies in the boot, but inadvertently allow him to escape. They find themselves under fire and run with what they can carry.

Parker and Lee return to the hut, followed by Watson and Scott with their takings. With dawn, they find themselves under attack again, this time with mortar fire. Watson sends three men out to the ditch; the Young 'un is hit on the way. The six men return fire as the Italians advance. As they run out of ammunition, Watson orders them to charge. They fight bravely, but are hopelessly outnumbered, until reinforcements arrive, with tanks and machine guns. Overpowered, the Italians surrender.

As they make their way to join a new lorry, they spot Harvey, leading a party of prisoners.

As Watson finishes his story, as the bugle sounds for mealtime, and the men file out.