Burma, 1942, and the British retreat before the Japanese, is the setting for the silent struggle that overwhelms Captain Tony Gilling when his belief grows stronger that his subedar Nay Dun is contemptuous of his lack of military professionalism. From civilian life, Gilling has as a constant Nay Dun's long experience as a soldier, impeccable efficiency, ruthless practicality and complete imperviousness, and when he is ordered to take his company of Karens on a tactical withdrawal to deny the road to the oncoming Japs he is unendingly humiliated by his sins of commission as well as those of omission. When he does something successfully, it turns out to be the incorrect move; when Nay Dun offers him monkey's blood for courage he sees no generosity only a barbarous taunt; when he is confronted by nightmarish Japanese tortures he knows he is hollow with fear. The enemy advance is implacable and at a last stand, Gilling, frenzied with terror, sends Nay Dun to a point further back, returns to blow up Japs and himself. Nay Dun, in assuming command, reveals that he has not been scornful but admiring and that if ""he -- who was not a soldier -- could act as he did, then so can we...."" and prepares for a final attempt to delay the Japanese. Again, as in Act of Mercy (1960), Clifford builds an arresting situation, gives it a grim and gruesome setting and, here, follows the progress of a personal failure to an ironical conclusion. For men rather than women.