The film tells about the difficult period of the young Soviet state. The confrontation in the Civil War is already on the decline, but Central Asia is still restless. Behind the Caspian Sea, Basmachi rebellions against the Red Army and civilians break out every now and then.
The main character is a Red Army soldier Sukhov. He won his own and is heading home through the sands and dunes. Every now and then he remembers his beloved wife and already practically sees a meeting with her in reality. But getting to his native Samara does not immediately come out – along the way Sukhov meets Said. The latter was buried in the sand and left for dead by bandits. The most cruel of them – a certain Javdet dealt with Said’s defenseless father. The protagonist rescues a young man and gets him out of the pit.
Sukhov continues his journey home. He meets a detachment of Red Army soldiers led by commander Rakhimov. The fighters are looking for Abdullah, a local Basmach bandit. Abdullah left the persecution, but left his wives in the old fortress. He wanted to destroy his harem, but did not have time. However, two women died at his hands. Rakhimov asks Sukhov to guard the harem and proceed to a small village on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Realizing that for a detachment of soldiers on a campaign, women are a burden, Sukhov nevertheless agrees.
Rakhimov allocates a young Red Army soldier, Petrukha, to help. The last clumsy, naive and not trained. Nevertheless, Petruha understands the importance of the task and wholeheartedly wants to help women avoid a terrible fate.
At first, Sukhov is perceived by the inhabitants of the harem as a new owner. Obvious vestiges of the past. Girls are submissive and constantly waiting for a catch. They also do not show their faces to anyone except the main character. Petruha decides to woo the youngest of Abdulla’s wives, Gulchatai. She is only fourteen.
To the misfortune of women and the main characters, Abdullah arrives in the village. He left the chase and now intends to kill all his wives and flee the country through the southern border. Sukhov seeks help from the head of customs, Vereshchagin. He gives him a machine gun and dynamite, but refuses to help himself, succumbing to the persuasion and entreaties of his wife. Meanwhile, it turns out that Abdullah wants to leave the cordon on a small longboat. To prevent this, the main characters mine the ship with dynamite in advance and install a time bomb on it.
Events are developing rapidly. Sukhov manages to capture Abdullah himself, and he closes him in a narrow pit-basement. But Abdullah again manages to escape. The villain cunningly attracts Gulchatai and kills her. Throwing on her veil, he deals with Petrukha. Sukhov is left alone against a whole gang of Basmachi. He takes his wives and takes refuge with them in an oil tank near the shore. Abdullah’s men surround the fugitives, but then Said appears. He perfectly remembers his savior and enters the battle. Taking advantage of the confusion of the enemy, Sukhov gets out of the trap tank and starts firing from a machine gun.
Customs officer Vereshchagin cannot remain aloof from what is happening. He goes to the longboat and captures it. Sukhov tries to warn him that there is dynamite and a bomb on the ship, but to no avail. An explosion occurs and Vereshchagin dies. The protagonist outflanks Abdullah and kills him. The fight is over, the women are saved. Sukhov offers Said to help avenge his father, but Said assures that he can handle it himself. Then the Red Army soldier takes his simple belongings and continues on his way home to his dear wife.
The main point of the film is that a just cause is sometimes worth dying for. Sukhov appears before the viewer as a simple soldier, with no less simple dreams and hopes. It is likely that he could simply leave without taking part in all the bloody clashes and without risking his life. But conscience and a just cause, for which he fought before, did not allow him to deviate from his principles. From the same “test” Vereshchagin. He is ready to sacrifice himself only so that the bandits cannot go unpunished, including for the death of Petrukha.
The image of Said is indicative. It can be seen that he is a man of traditional oriental views. At the same time, a feeling of gratitude towards Sukhov makes him reconsider some things and even engage in battle with fellow believers.