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|Gregory Peck||Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty|
|Christopher Plummer||Col. Herbert Kappler|
|Kenneth Colley||Capt. Hirsch|
|Barbara Bouchet||Minna Kappler|
|Olga Karlatos||Francesca Lombardo|
|John Gielgud||Pope Pius XII|
|Raf Vallone||Father Vittorio|
In 1943, Nazi Germany completely occupies Rome. The Pope (John Gielgud) is approached by General Max Helm and SS Head of Police for Rome Colonel Herbert Kappler (Christopher Plummer). The Colonel expresses concern that escaped Allied prisoners may attempt to seek refuge in the Vatican, and requests permission to paint a white line across St. Peter's Square in order to mark the extent of Vatican sovereignty. The Pope grants his permission, but upon the departure of the SS officers looks out the window to see the white line had already begun being painted.
Kappler's main rival is Monsignor O'Flaherty (Gregory Peck), an Irish clergyman who runs an underground organization which provides safe haven and eventual escape to Jews, escaped POWs, and refugees in Nazi-occupied Rome. O'Flaherty is assisted in this enterprise by several other patriots such as Ms. Francesca Lombardo and other local Romans, including clergy. Kappler attempts to end their activities and destroy the group, but is increasingly frustrated by O'Flaherty's repeated successes, due to a combination of his clever plans, numerous disguises, and stressing the very limits of international law. Met with continuous failure, Kappler begins to develop a personal vendetta against O'Flaherty. Despite O'Flaherty's efforts, Kappler manages to recapture many escaped POWs, deport many Jews to death camps, and exploit and oppress the general population; a number of O'Flaherty's friends are also arrested or killed. O'Flaherty is himself the target of an assassination attempt instigated by Kappler, which fortunately fails due to the monsignor's boxing skills. Despite Kappler's efforts, however, the rescue organisation continues operating, and succeeds in saving many lives.
As the war progresses, the Allies succeed in landing in Italy and begin to overcome German resistance, eventually breaking through and heading towards Rome itself. Kappler worries for his family's safety from vengeful partisans, and, in a one-to-one meeting with O'Flaherty, asks him to save his family, appealing to the same values that motivated O'Flaherty to save so many others. The Monsignor, however, refuses, disbelieving that after all the Colonel has done and all the atrocities he is responsible for, he would expect mercy and forgiveness automatically, simply because he asked for it, and departs in disgust.
As the Allies enter Rome in June, 1944, Monsignor O'Flaherty joins in the celebrations of the liberation, and somberly toasts those who did not live to see it. Though the Pope has officially cautioned O'Flaherty about his activities, on the day of the liberation he bestows his personal blessing upon the Monsignor, who then goes into a chapel to pray.
Kappler is captured in 1945 and questioned by the Allies. In the course of his interrogation, he is informed that his wife and children were smuggled out of Italy and escaped unharmed into Switzerland. Upon being asked who helped them, Kappler realizes who it must have been, but responds simply that he does not know.
The film epilogue states that O'Flaherty was decorated by several Allied governments after the war. Kappler was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was frequently visited in prison by O'Flaherty, eventually becoming a Catholic and being baptized at his hands in 1959.
DVD : 2003-04-22