powered by AFI
In August, 1944, as Allied troops await orders to march into German-occupied Paris, Hitler assigns command of the city to Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz. The Feuhrer's orders are simple and direct--if Paris cannot be held, it is to be burned to the ground. At the same time, the French Resistance movement, which has succeeded in taking possession of two-thirds of the city, is divided over a new plan of strategy. Gen. Jacques Chaban-Delmas, a Free French follower of Charles de Gaulle, strongly opposes those Communists favoring an immediate insurrection, which he fears might turn Paris into another Warsaw. With the help of the Swedish consul, Nordling, he attempts to arrange for the release of an important political prisoner, Bernard Labe, who might succeed in forestalling the uprising; but the plan ultimately fails, and Labe is shot. Word arrives that the Allies have decided to bypass the city and push directly to the Rhine, whereupon the Free French send Major Gallois to convince the Allied High Command that at least one military unit must liberate Paris, thereby enabling Germany to save face and surrender with honor. Von Choltitz, through all of this, procrastinates and ignores Hitler's hysterical demands that the city be burned. Largely responsible for the general's hesitancy is Nordling, who appeals to both von Choltitz' reason and his vanity by pointing out that by refusing to destroy centuries of history merely to satisfy a madman, he would become known as the man who saved Paris. Consequently, the order to burn the city is never given and, on August 25th, American and French soldiers liberate Paris. As von Choltitz is taken prisoner, exultant Parisians surge through the streets to greet the return of General Charles de Gaulle.