6.9 / 10
Laurence Naismith , David Niven , Margaret Leighton
Major Charles 'Copper' Carrington (David Niven), who has had a distinguished war record and was awarded the Victoria Cross, is arrested for embezzling 125 pounds (about £5000 today) from his unit's safe. Other charges include leaving the base, when he was supposed to be putting his men through some exercises, and entertaining a woman officer in his room, which was forbidden by the base commander Colonel Henniker (Allan Cuthbertson).Appearing in his own defence, Carrington's case at his court-martial is that he took the money openly and without secrecy because of all the back pay owed him. The Army Paymaster has failed to pay him back for various expenses during postings in the Far East and his wife Valerie (Margaret Leighton) has been pressuring him for money. She lives in another part of the country, has become ill as a result of the financial worries and has even threatened suicide.Carrington claims that he told his superior, Colonel Henniker, about his decision to remove the money. He transferred £100 of it to his wife's account in order to give her relief from her financial problems. He then left the base in order to compete in a major horse race in which he had bet the rest of the money on himself. He would thus be able to pay back the cash taken from the safe. He succeeded but then fell from his horse in another race. When his friend Captain Alison Graham (Noelle Middleton) tried to return the money she was denied access to the safe.As for the incident in his room, it is established that Carrington was bed-ridden at the time as a result of his fall and that Graham was visiting him in order to discuss the matter of the embezzlement. She was fully-dressed and sitting on a chair when they were interrupted by Colonel Henniker who stormed into the room reminding them that it was against regulations for a male and female officer to be together in private quarters. He and Carrington argued and there was a bit of a fight. Henniker admits waiting for some time between seeing Graham go to Carrington's room and then going there himself.Colonel Henniker is in fact Carrington's enemy. He resents his war record and achievements and his popularity at the base. There is an element of sympathy for Carrington's actions and it is pointed out that the Major could be cleared if it is established that Henniker had forewarned knowledge of his intentions. He thus perjures himself at the court-martial by denying being told by Carrington of his decision to take the money from the safe in order to temporarily settle his debts. Much of these debts were due to Henniker's constant delays in pursuing the matter of the Paymaster's failure to pay Carrington the money owed to him.Carrington's wife Valerie has turned up for the hearing. Due to her poor health he did not intend to call her as a witness; but, when the case goes against him following Henniker's "evidence," he decides that he will have to. She resents the idea of washing their dirty linen in public, but finally agrees.Things go wrong, however, when certain conversations make Valerie suspicious about Carrington's friendly relationship with Captain Graham. Under pressure, Graham admits to Valerie that she had a one-night stand with Carrington when they became stranded in a pub in the middle of a snow storm. But Carrington then insisted that a full affair would not be fair on anyone and ended it. He and Graham are now just friends.Valerie appears in court, and gives evidence, but now she also perjures herself by denying that her husband ever told her, during a crucial telephone conversation about his motives for what he did, that he had informed Colonel Henniker he was taking the money. Carrington produces a letter that Valerie wrote to him after that telephone conversation, specifying his grievances against the Army's delay in paying what he was owed. Since the letter also contains some embarrassing matters about the couple and Valerie's health, Carrington intends to only read the parts that he feels are relevant to his defence, but the judge insists that he and the other officials must read it in full before it is submitted into evidence. Rather than allow this, which Valerie had said she did not want to happen, Carrington tears the letter up and abandons his attempts to persuade Valerie to state in evidence that he had told her he was informing his colonel of his removal of the money from the safe.The officers who are to determine his fate are themselves a little unsettled by the way things are going. Some of them have seen through the lies told in court and sympathise with Carrington's position, motives and actions. The senior officer reminds them, however, that the law says that the case must be decided on the evidence presented, and not on what they may think about the defendant, or what they surmise about what was in that letter which the defendant decided not to put into evidence for obvious but unspoken reasons. On a majority of 3 to 2, Carrington is found guilty on all counts and dismissed from the service.The verdict is soon all over the base. The regular soldiers are near-unanimous that it is an unfair decision. One of them, Owen (Victor Maddern), was a Sergeant who was demoted when loyalty to Carrington resulted in him failing to co-operate with the investigation. He was later demoted again and is now a mere Private due to his behaviour in court, but feels that this time he has had his money's worth.Having made his grievances public, Carrington has decided to let the matter rest. His marriage is also over, but, with an attitude that is typical of him, he puts it down to the fact that Valerie is still really in love with her late husband who was killed during the war and was the father of her two sons.But then, as he exits the building where the court-martial was held, the other soldiers rally around and display their support for him. Also, crucially, in the course of gossiping about the case, another private, a girl working at the telephone exchange, admits overhearing Carrington's phone conversation with his wife and what was really said... The flag is lowered to half mast on the flagpole as the movie ends, with Carrington, moved by the support, at last prepared to put in an appeal against the verdict.