The story involves a crowd of raffish misfits killing time in the little Italian seaport until repairs are completed on the rust-bucket ship that will take them to British East Africa. They all have secret schemes to stake a claim to a uranium find. Bogart and Lollobrigida play Billy and Maria Dannreuther; he once owned a local villa, but has been reduced to having his hotel bills paid by Petersen (Morley), a crook in a magnificent ice cream suit, his tie laid out like a Dover sole on the upper reaches of his belly.
Petersen's other associates include a man named O'Hara (Lorre) who has a German accent and says, suspiciously, that there are a lot of O'Haras in Chile; the rat-faced little Maj. Ross (Ivor Bernard), who observes approvingly, "Hitler knew how to put women in their place," and the gaunt, mournful, hawk-nosed Ravello (Marco Tulli). Also waiting for the boat to sail are Gwendolyn and Harry Chelm (Jennifer Jones and Edward Underdown), who claim to be from the landed gentry of Gloucestershire.
These characters are imported, more or less, from an original novel by "James Helvick," actually the left-wing British critic Claud Cockburn (whose son Alexander named his column in the Nation magazine after the movie). The film was originally set in a French town, and intended to be a halfway serious thriller about the evils of colonial exploitation. When Bogart signed aboard, that's what he thought it would be, but at some point in the transfer to Italian locations John Huston decided to make it a comedy, and hired the 28-year-old Capote on the advice of Jones' husband, the tireless memo writer David O. Selznick.
There are times during the movie when you can sense Capote chuckling to himself as he supplies improbable dialogue for his characters.