Looking for a brighter economic future for her family after her husband dies, Rosaria Parondi moves herself and her five sons to Milan from rural southern Italy. There, they face difficulties finding and keeping work, some discrimination, and the different social opportunities and temptations of the city. Director Luchino Visconti begins in neo-realist mode (more or less) but the drama soon shifts into a more literary novelistic style, with tension between the bad son (Renato Salvatori) and the good son (Alain Delon). Salvatori starts out on a boxing career but soon falls in with the wrong crowd, including a prostitute (Annie Girardot) who leads him further astray into petty crime and debauchery. Delon keeps his nose clean, gets drafted into the military and returns to find his bad brother abandoned by his fling, kicked out of boxing, and deep in debt - he subsequently seeks to reform the prostitute, becomes a boxing champion himself, and tries to hold his family together. The other brothers play more minor roles but the escalating melodrama envelops them as well. Indeed, things get very extreme and take this family drama into much darker territory. As Rocco (Delon) suggests, it might have been better if they'd stayed put and not moved to Milan at all. Thus, the film is a lament for the passing of community, family, and tradition in favour of more alienated, individualistic, and industrialized pursuits, although Visconti keeps the story on a small scale.