A Time to Love and a Time to Die
Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel and directed by Douglas Sirk, in 1944 a German soldier on the Russian front gets leave, returns to Germany, and finds a beautiful woman to love.
During the winter German soldiers are retreating and have lost many men. Their lieutenant is told that two Russian men and an outspoken woman are guerrillas and must be shot. He asks for volunteers, but only Steinbrenner (Bengt Lindstrom) volunteers. The officer orders Ernst Graeber (John Gavin) and Hirschland (Jim Hutton) to be on the firing squad. Hirschland says he will shoot over their heads; but Steinbrenner says they will have to do it again, and it only makes it worse because it is like executing them twice. The woman is making a speech in Russian until the shots are fired. Later Hirschland shoots himself dead.
Graeber has been fighting for two years and has been waiting seven months for his furlough. Finally the lieutenant says his furlough notice has arrived. He warns him that the situation is difficult, and it might get cancelled. So he advises him to leave right away.
Ernst Graeber takes a train to the city where he was born and raised. He looks for the remains of his home amid the bombed rubble but cannot find anyone at the address. He meets Hermann Boettcher (Don DeFore) who is looking for his heavy wife, and they agree to look for each other’s family. Boettcher says they can go to the hospital to eat, but Graeber is skeptical.
Looking for anyone who might know where his parents are, Ernst meets Elizabeth Kruse (Lilo Pulver) and remembers her. Her room is in a building with others, and a woman in charge of the bomb shelter is officious toward them. From her room they can see men from a concentration camp working outside, and Elizabeth looks out the window to see if she identify her father; but he is not there. During air raids they wait before going into the shelter.
Inside the shelter a woman is attracted to the handsome Ernst. Soon bombs land, and they all have to escape from the shelter.
Ernst and Elizabeth stay together and get to know each other well. Ernst offers to marry her so that she can get 200 marks a month from his pay, but she is angered at first by the suggestion. They talk it over, and he tells her that he really loves her, and they kiss. They decide to get married.
They go to an office but are worried that they may not get permission because of her father. Ernst tells her he will find out if there is a problem and will give put down his cap. He discusses it with the official who indicates it is okay. He forgets and puts his cap on the counter. Then he remembers and runs after her.
Elizabeth shows the air warden lady their marriage certificate, and they spend a happy night together celebrating with champagne. They also visit Oscar Binding (Thayer David), a wealth Nazi, who knows Ernst and helps them celebrate.
When Elizabeth is at her job in a factory, Ernst gets a letter for her that orders her to report to the Gestapo. He finds his old professor Pohlmann (Erich Maria Remarque) in hiding and is told to come back later when no one will see him there. Pohlmann is also hiding Joseph (Charles Régnier), a Jew.
Ernst takes the Gestapo summons to an office and is told to sign a paper for his wife and is given a box which contains the ashes left from his wife’s father. He takes the box to a churchyard and buries it. Ernst goes to see the professor, and they discuss whether it is wise for Ernst to leave the army or not. If he leaves, they will use his parents to try to find him and kill him.
When Elizabeth comes home, Ernst tells her that her father is dead, and she cries.
Another day Ernst runs into Joseph who tells him that the professor was captured while running out in the street so that Joseph could escape.
Ernst, after being denied an extension of his leave, decides he must return to his unit and asks Elizabeth not to see him off at the train because his mother had repeated sad things when he went away.
Ernst takes the train and eventually finds his patrol. They get mail, and a letter from Elizabeth informs him that she is pregnant. Two civilians have been captured, and the lieutenant orders Graeber to lock them up and guard them until they can be turned over for an investigation. Steinbrenner thinks they should be shot, but the lieutenant disagrees. Graeber is guarding them when Steinbrenner comes and tells him their unit is pulling out and that the prisoners must be shot. Graeber disagrees and says he is in charge of them. As he is freeing the prisoners, Steinbrenner aims his rifle at him, and Graeber kills him. Then he lets the civilians go, but one of them shoots Graeber, and he dies.