Pigeons and vagabonds populate the town square of Porto Manacore, the seedy Italian fishing village perched above the Adriatic where passion and power are equally corrupt. Overlooking the immoral hoi polloi from his baroque apartment on high is the town's wealthy patriarch Don Cesare (Pierre Brasseur, anticipating Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone). Lusted after by the men of the town is his gorgeous housekeeper, Mariette (Gina Lollobrigida), the resident whipping girl to the Don's other female caretakers. When the handsome yet broke Milanese engineer Enrico Tosso (Marcello Mastroianni) comes to town, Mariette concocts a daring scheme to marry him. But the devilish Matteo Brigante (Yves Montand), local brute and admirer of Mariette, connives to shut Enrico out by using "The Law," a vicious drinking game and humiliating power play, as his weapon of choice. Piquing censors at the time of its initial release, Dassin's film is a sexy, lurid, occasionally campy romp amongst the lowly and the exalted, the suave and the callow, and the otherwise contradictory inhabitants of the gorgeously photographed Mediterranean.