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In England a year before the start of World War II, safe-cracking expert Colley Dawson gains the admiration of his boss, Herbert Fenwright, and several notable businessmen when he demonstrates how easy it is to break into the house of a wealthy lord and open his "unbreakable" safe. Later, Colley assists Scotland Yard in opening a bank vault that has been re-set by an inside thief. At his cramped home, Colley complains to his mother that although his rare expertise consistently brings important customers to Fenwright's, he is paid only a pittance. The next afternoon, Colley is approached by Bennett Carfield, the owner of an arts shop and one of the men at the safe-breaking demonstration. Recognizing Colley's appreciation of art and his economic frustrations, he asks Colley if he would use his skills to steal rare art objects for Carfield's affluent buyers, who are unconcerned over how prized pieces are obtained. Colley negotiates for half of the proceeds, then agrees. Carfield warns Colley not to spend the money in an obvious way or they will be caught immediately. Soon after teaming with Carfield, Colley takes the assumed name of Simon Ledburn, under which he purchases a Rolls Royce and rents a fashionable apartment for weekend retreats. Over the next several months, Colley, using information provided by Carfield, successfully breaks into numerous locales and spends his lavish proceeds as "Simon." Alarmed by the rising number of thefts occurring in wealthy homes, Scotland Yard begins investigating and narrows the suspects down to a handful of men in Britain capable of opening safes by listening to the tumbler, which includes Colley. When Colley realizes that his movements are being tracked by Scotland Yard, he reports to Carfield who wants to bring an immediate halt to their activities. Colley demands they do one last job to discredit the police and provide a final financial windfall. Carfield reluctantly agrees and a few days later, supplies Colley with information on an estate he has staked out. Unaware that the police have connected Colley with "Simon's" car, Colley proceeds with the job. Believing that he has evaded his constant police "tail," Colley then triumphantly picks Carfield up in his Rolls Royce to hand over the merchandise. When the police move in, Colley insists on making a run for it, terrifying Carfield. Determined not to be caught, Carfield throws himself from Colley's car and is accidentally run over and killed by the police. Mortified, Colley pulls over and is promptly arrested. Two years later, with World War II at its height, British Military Intelligence receives vital information that a list of all German espionage agents is housed in a Belgian chateau serving as local German army headquarters. Maj. Adbury is assigned to retrieve the list, but rejects the suggestion that using a convict to break into the German safe would expedite the mission. When Adbury learns that only three men in Britain can open the German safe, he interviews a paroled ex-convict, who turns down the job. Adbury then interviews Colley, who is serving a ten-year sentence for his crimes. Cynical and indifferent to the progress of the war, Colley refuses to help when Adbury is unable to guarantee that his participation would secure his release. Although uneasy about using Colley, Adbury learns that the other safe expert convict is gravely ill and he has no other choice but to obtain assurance that Colley will be paroled after the mission. Colley is then transferred to a military training camp where he meets the members of the mission who will transport him safely to the chateau. To his dismay, Colley is ordered to undergo a week of rigorous physical training, including parachuting lessons. None of the team members is told Colley's true identity, only that he is the crucial link in the operation. Upon parachuting into Belgium, Colley is separated from the others when his parachute is caught in a tree. The Belgian underground escorts Adbury and the men to a safe farmhouse for the night while others search for Colley. Iréne, a member of the resistance, finds Colley and, evading a German patrol, brings him to the barn where the others are hiding. Adbury is distressed when Colley admits that he was unable to bury his chute successfully. Later that night, the patrol discovers Colley's parachute and investigate all the local residences. Iréne is forced to endure the humiliating attentions of a German soldier in order to divert him from exploring the barn too closely. Witnessing the incident, Colley is puzzled by Iréne's actions and at dawn, instead of preparing to depart, questions her willingness to sacrifice herself. Colley admits he has no motive for participating in the mission other than winning his freedom. Adbury, Colley and the men then make their way to the chateau where their careful plan centers on leaving no evidence of their break-in, so the Germans will not know the list of agents has been compromised. After successfully entering the chateau, Colley is diverted by the art contents of a locked glass cabinet, until directed to the safe by Adbury. The safe has two dials and as Colley begins working on them, blaring German music startles the men. Colley struggles to hear the tumblers and eventually opens the safe where the list is found and photographed, then he resets the safe dials. As the men creep away, Colley cannot resist returning to the glass cabinet which he unlocks and then removes a rare, valuable art piece. Relocking the cabinet, Colley pauses to admire the object and is spotted by a German officer who shoots him. While the alerted Germans rush to check the safe, Adbury returns to Colley, who dies. When the Germans find the safe apparently untouched, they are mystified by the presence of the lone burglar. Several months later, Mrs. Dawson receives Colley's official pardon and a commendation for his heroic action.