Colonel Wolf Merton (Jack Hawkins) used to command troops in campaigns during the Second World War, and was much-respected too, but those days are long gone as he now has a business to take up his time in civilian life. But one day while out golfing with a client and friend (Hugh Williams) his ball goes into the rough and he stumbles upon a vast scrapyard of tanks left over from the conflict that he finds out from the workman there are being broken up and turned into tractors. He is amused to hear this, though a little sad, and returns to his round, but that evening he goes home to prepare for a night in the company of his friend and his wife when he realises he is not alone in the house: there is an intruder! And against the odds, he knows who he is - Ginger (Michael Medwin)!
Not Ginger Edwards, one of Merton's troops?! The very same! After that somewhat heavy-handed introduction where the tanks on the scrapheap are compared to the men who returned from the war to find themselves on a social scrapheap, there's a tense confrontation between the ex-Colonel and Ginger (though once a colonel, always a colonel, according to this) where the latter trains a gun on his former officer as he tries to persuade him to have a drink and talk about it. Although a figure of undeniable authority here, and indeed in many roles, Hawkins was showing his kindly side in this, trying to look out for the men under his watch and genuinely dismayed to discover that one of them has fallen on hard times. It was a humane performance that helped to paper over a few cracks in the story.
Well, more than one story, as the film became a portmanteau effort of sorts as once Ginger has fled the scene believing Merton called the police (he didn't), the Colonel is determined to track him down and give him the break he desperately needs. To do so he visits a bunch of the other men in the division who knew Ginger to see if they know what has happened to him, including well-known character actors like George Cole and Dennis Price, whereupon we flashback to their wartime days to fill in a few gaps in our knowledge, plotwise. The problem with that was, few of these actually advanced the plot forward, and came across as padding which if you were impatient for Hawkins to get on with it and help out Medwin's nervy crim might mean the production would begin to drag significantly.
Fortunately the cast were professionals and if there was too much included here that came across as superfluous to requirements, the vignettes offered opportunities for neat bits of acting as, for instance, Cole recalls being promoted by Hawkins during the war and felt he was way out of his depth, preferring the company of his old comrade Medwin, or Price is revealed to be a cold-hearted businessman who would rather forget the act of cowardice that saw him sit out the worst of the war having been wounded. The lesser-known Arthur Howard even had a comedy skit to essay with Dora Bryan, who we see firmly asking to be given the tour of a tank, only to get her escort into trouble in the process - not exactly hilarious, but the filmmakers were correct when they discerned we needed a little light relief. Guy Hamilton was the director, establishing himself in this decade before making his name as a James Bond reliable, and it was all very efficient, its theme that veterans should be looked after never going out of fashion. Music by Francis Chagrin.
[Network release this on Blu-ray with the trailer and an image gallery as extras.]