This adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel about a war-time romance was nominated for best picture.
The Italian surgeon Captain Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou) tells his friend Frederick Henry (Gary Cooper) that he is in love with a nurse and tries to set up the ambulance driver with her friend Ferguson. However, Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes) likes Frederick and tells him that her fiancé of eight years was killed in the war. He tries to kiss her when she says no, and she slaps him. Then he is so meek that she apologizes and asks for a kiss. Lt. Henry turns back the ambulance in order to find Catherine and say good-bye to her. The jealous Rinaldi asks for Miss Barkely to be transferred to Milan. At the battle of Plava Frederick is wounded. Rinaldi operates and sends his friend to Milan and Miss Barkley.
A priest hopes they will marry, but Ferguson doubts they will, saying they will either fight or die. Finding bottles, the head nurse accuses Henry of being an alcoholic and sends him to the front. Catherine fears the rain because she sees herself and Frederick dead in it. Frederick has to leave the house where they have been living together. Catherine goes to Switzerland and writes letters to Frederick. He also is writing letters and does not want to go out drinking with Rinaldi, who then sends back her letters to him. Soon Frederick has had 32 letters returned to sender. He tells the priest he is leaving the army. After a series of war scenes of soldiers and destruction, Frederick runs and is shot at. At Milan Ferguson calls him a deserter, says Catherine is pregnant and gone; but she won't tell him where she is. Frederick asks a friend for clothes, and he runs an ad to Catherine. Rinaldi wants him to go back, because if he is arrested, he will be shot; but Frederick says he is through with the war. So Rinaldi tells him where Catherine is.
When Catherine discovers that her twenty letters have been returned unopened, she faints. Frederick takes a row boat, and Rinaldi gives him some money, regretting his earlier foolishness. In the hospital Catherine calls for Frederick. He arrives as she is going in for an operation; the baby is dead. He prays for her life. She tells him she is fine, and they make plans; but then she admits she is dying. He says she is brave and that they never will be parted in life or death. She dies, as the armistice is declared. He says only, "Peace, peace."
This dark film contrasts the horrors of war with personal romance. The superficial ambition and carousing of Rinaldi is compared to the devoted love of Frederick, as the cynicism of Ferguson highlights the deep love of Catherine. In the chaos of war the rite of marriage does not seem to matter, as Frederick places his relationship above his duty to the army.