The title refers to the scugnizzi, the bands of Neapolitan teenage boys who are completely separated from homes and who depend on their ingenuity for their moment by moment existence. Within the bands there is complete loyalty and total acceptance of the concept that each one's gains must be shared, but among the groups there is a warlike competition for survival. Ferdinando Caffarelli, trailed by his devoted but retarded younger brother Orlando, left his home in Rome to join them when he learned that his mother was pregnant with her 12th child, for he knew that there simply was not enough room in their apartment. From their wretched circumstances they are eventually rescued, rather artificially, by the intervention of a beautiful French countess and a wealthy Englishman. The happy ending is not too outlandish, however; it simply means that the boys have a hard task obtaining jobs of caretaker, fisherman, lumberman and hospital orderly. The description of the freedom of the scugnizzi should have a strong appeal for teenage boys, but it is balanced with indications of the problems and extra responsibilities of this life.