On a small fishing boat in the North Sea the sailors fall sick one after the other. The boat is far from the coasts and the radio is broken. The skipper has the idea of using ham frequencies to send the alert. A radio amateur from the colonial administration in Togo gets the message. He calls the local doctor who diagnoses food poisoning: all fishermen had eaten homemade ham. All by Mahomed, faithful to the Halal code. A vaccine should be sent to them, as fast as possible, otherwise death can occur. It is a matter of hours.
Togo sends a call towards Paris, to reach a friend of the physician. The alert is received by a young radio amateur (played by a very young Jean-Louis Trintignant). He goes to the address of the doctor's friend, to find out that the man died three months ago. The widow refuses to listen to him. The young guy insists and succeeds to persuade the widow. It is a great scene, as the youngster pleads for the guys trapped by sickness on North Sea while the widow starts to realize that she still has responsibilities for this life that goes on, beyond her loss. They buy the vaccine and run to the airport. The vaccine is sent by air to Berlin, to be forwarded there to a Danish plane, in charge of finding the boat and parachuting the parcel.
So someone in Germany should be alerted: the man who gets the ham signal is a world veteran who is blind. He succeeds in turn to call an American pilot in West Berlin. Only the parcel needs to be taken from East Berlin and we are in the first middle of fifties, at the peak of Cold War. So the American enters the East Berlin, is caught by a Soviet patrol ... he succeeds in explaining what the matter is to the young Soviet officer who interrogates him. So the medicine is given to the Danish airplane and finally arrives in time to the boat.
I saw the movie in the first mid of the sixties, and read then the book it was based upon. Odd is that I didn't find any reference to the book on the web. It happens.
The whole story seems at first to be far too pathetic to be taken seriously, but you should see the movie. It communicates you a sense of generosity and solidarity that is irresistible. Different little universes, completely remote each other in any sense, bored clerks in the colonial administration in Togo, far from France, a widow in Paris for whom nothing matters anymore, a blind veteran of war finding solace in front of the ham radio, American and Soviet soldiers opposed one another, a crew of fishermen fighting for their life far away in the sea, and each of these universes is crossed by petty conflicts, women sick of their spouses, endemic lack of money, for medicines, for phone calls, for anything, stupid mistrust born from devilish propaganda demonizing the other side, stupid racist beliefs that the Muslim is always the suspect ... and despite all this, nothing matters any more, the Cold War mistrust, the personal dramas and tragedies, the cultural differences, nothing, we all are "des gars" and can really be together.