A brilliasnt film based on the Americans fighting the Germans and it has a very good but offbeat ending.Squad leader Sergeant Larkin (Harry Guardino) and his men are getting ready to take a long deserved rest after being on the front-line for several weeks. During an interlude at a church and later at a tavern, the senior non-commissioned officer, Technical Sergeant Pike (Fess Parker), happens upon former fellow sergeant, now Private, John Reese (Steve McQueen). Reese is the quintessential troubled loner, managing to alienate himself from almost everyone in the squad right from the beginning. The company commander, Captain Loomis (Joseph Hoover), is worried because Reese goes crazy when there is no fighting, but Pike comments that he is a good soldier in combat.
Sergeant Pike informs the men that they will be going back on the line. After much complaining, the men get ready to move out. The remaining members of 2nd Squad include con-man/thief Corby (Bobby Darin), the mechanic-who-can-fix-anything Corporal Henshaw (James Coburn), the easy-going, somewhat-naive kid, Cumberly (Bill Mullikin), Polish refugee Homer Janeczek (Nick Adams), and family man Kolinsky (Mike Kellin). The morning after they arrive at their appointed post and dig in, the men realize they are spread so thin that any reconnaissance by the Germans will quickly reveal how weak the American defenses are.
One stroke of good luck is the sudden and mistaken arrival of an Army company clerk, Private First Class James Driscoll (Bob Newhart in his first film role). Larkin quickly puts Driscoll’s jeep to use by having Henshaw rig it to backfire and sound like a tank. Driscoll himself is put to use improvising misleading radio messages for a hidden microphone left by the Germans in an abandoned pillbox (Newhart was noted for his telephone conversation skits in his stand-up comedy routines).
A German raid results in Cumberly's death, but Reese manages to kill three Germans in close combat. Reese, so wound up he can barely stand still, recommends hitting the German pillbox on the other side of a field filled with mines and barbed wire to make the enemy think the Americans are at normal strength. Larkin decides to go find some help and see if he can get permission from Pike for the attack, but is killed by artillery. Reese decides to proceed without orders and persuades the others to go along. The attack fails, with Henshaw fatally burned by his exploding flamethrower tanks and Kolinsky dying screaming from shrapnel through the back and abdomen.
Reinforcements do arrive soon thereafter, along with Sergeant Pike and Captain Loomis, who berates Reese and decides not to court-martial the insubordinate private only so he can be at the front of the American assault at dawn. The pillbox fires on the advancing Americans. Reese throws a satchel charge into the pillbox. When it is tossed out by the defenders, he grabs it and, by now gravely wounded, carries it in, blowing up the fortification and himself.