A Time to Love and a Time to Die

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A Time to Love and a Time to Die
Film poster
Directed byDouglas Sirk
Written byOrin Jannings
Erich Maria Remarque
Based onnovel by Erich Maria Remarque
Produced byRobert Arthur
StarringJohn Gavin
Liselotte Pulver
CinematographyRussell Metty
Edited byTed J. Kent
Music byMiklós Rózsa
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dates
  • July 5, 1958 (1958-07-05) (Berlin[1])
  • July 9, 1958 (1958-07-09)
Running time
132 minutes
CountriesUnited States
West Germany
Box office$1.6 million (US/Canada) rentals[2]
2.8 million admissions (France)[3]

A Time to Love and a Time to Die is a 1958 Eastmancolor CinemaScope drama war film directed by Douglas Sirk and starring John Gavin and Liselotte Pulver.[4] Based on the book by German author Erich Maria Remarque and set on the Eastern Front and in Nazi Germany, it tells the story of a young German soldier who is revolted by the conduct of the German army in the Soviet Union and actions of the Nazi Party in the homefront.[5]

According to Variety magazine, the film "was regarded by the company's exec echelon, at the outset, as fine drama and [a] wham money-maker but the box office disappointment is now ascribed to [an] absence of names".[6]


As a German infantry unit retreats across Russia in the spring of 1944, Ernst Graeber's conscience is revolted by the execution of captured civilians. Given his first furlough for over two years, he returns to find his family home bombed and his parents gone. Calling at the house of the family doctor for information, the daughter Elizabeth tells him her father is in a concentration camp because of an unwise remark. Allied bombing continues by day and by night.

An old school friend who is now the local head of the Nazi Party offers Ernst accommodation, food, drink, and women. But he prefers to stay with fellow soldiers billeted in a hospital and to get closer to Elizabeth. The two go to the one restaurant still open, which is destroyed that night by bombs.

Each alone in the world, they agree to an immediate marriage, but Elizabeth's family home is flattened by bombs and they take refuge in a ruined church. Elizabeth gets a summon to Gestapo headquarters, which Ernst intercepts and attends as her husband. He is given her father's ashes, which he secretly buries in the churchyard. Visiting his former teacher, who helps Jews on the run, he is told there is no excuse for the Wehrmacht's war crimes against Russians and of the German state against its own citizens. Ernst and Elizabeth find lodgings for the rest of his leave.

Returning to the front, he finds a fellow soldier who is an ardent Nazi about to shoot captured civilians. As the two are alone, he kills the other soldier and tells the civilians to flee. One of them picks up the dead man's rifle and shoots Ernst dead. He had not finished reading a letter from Elizabeth, saying that she was expecting their child.



Remarque met Sirk in 1954 and the director persuaded the writer to adapt his own novel for the screen. ("I found him an extraordinarily understanding and capable man", said Remarque. "He knew what he wanted to do with my book."[5]) Sirk's son, actor Klaus Detlef Sierck (1925–1944), died in the Ukraine as a soldier of the Panzer-Grenadier-Division Großdeutschland when he was 18 years old.[7]

Universal decided to cast two relative unknowns in the lead. As studio executive Al Daff said:

We could have put two well-known personalities in it and proceeded on the basis of making a star vehicle. Or we could, as we decided to do, cast the story for inevitability and put into the lead roles talented, fresh performers who would not have to overcome the handicap of personality identification and could be accepted as a young Nazi officer and his sweetheart.[8]

At one stage Ann Harding was going to play a role.[9]

Filming took place in West Berlin, which Sirk had fled over 20 years before and the US Army Europe training area at Grafenwöhr. Interiors were shot at CCC Film's Spandau Studios in Berlin.[10] The film's sets were designed by the art directors Alexander Golitzen and Alfred Sweeney. Gavin was accompanied by his wife who he had just married and they used the movie as an opportunity to honeymoon.[11]

The musical score was composed by Miklós Rózsa on loanout from M-G-M, where he had been the primary composer for over a decade.

Universal sent a screen test of Gavin to critics in advance of the film's release.[12] Hedda Hopper saw a preview and predicted that Gavin will "take the public by storm and so will the picture, which should also put its co-star, Lilo Pulver in the top ten."[13]

Universal publicly claimed that the film cost $5 million but Universal president Milton Rackmil denied that they had ever spent that amount on a film.[14]


The Los Angeles Times wrote the film wasn't as good as All Quiet on the Western Front but was "vivid, sometimes brutally shocking and, less often, emotionally moving."[15]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Box office[edit]

The film was expected to be Universal's biggest film of the year and was, with theatrical rentals of $1.6 million in the United States and Canada.[17][2] The film was one of the most popular of the year in France.[3] Kinematograph Weekly listed it as being "in the money" at the British box office in 1958.[18]




  1. ^ Myers, Harold (July 2, 1958). "Political Tensions, No U.S. Stars Mark Opening Of Berlin Film Fest". Variety. p. 2. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Top Grossers of 1958". Variety. January 7, 1959. p. 48. Retrieved October 2, 2021 – via Archive.org.
  3. ^ a b French box office of 1959 at Box Office Story
  4. ^ Crowther, Bosley (2008). "A Time to Love and a Time to Die". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 30, 2008. Retrieved October 19, 2008.
  5. ^ a b Scheuer, Philip K. (July 21, 1957). "A Town Called Hollywood: Remarque Enjoys Adapting Own Novel Into Screenplay". Los Angeles Times. p. E2.
  6. ^ Arneel, Gene (February 4, 1959). "Stars look down on flops". Variety. p. 3.
  7. ^ "Portrait of the actor Klaus-Detlef Sierck by Thomas Staedeli". www.cyranos.ch. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  8. ^ THOMAS M. PRYOR (August 11, 1957). "HOLLYWOOD IDEAS: Newcomers Face Stardom at Universal --'South Pacific' on the Horizon Appraisal "Pacific" Launching Movie Slant". New York Times. p. 89.
  9. ^ THOMAS M. PRYOR (July 31, 1957). "MOVIE DIRECTORS SET UP 2 GRANTS: Guild Offers Scholarships for Coast Students--Bells Are Ringing' Rings the Bell Paramount Eyes Musical". The New York Times. p. 26.
  10. ^ FREDERICK BANKER (November 3, 1957). "CAMERAS CAPTURE LOVE AND DEATH IN BERLIN: Ubiquitous Fans Shooting the Works Vote of Confidence". New York Times. p. 143.
  11. ^ Hopper, Hedda (July 20, 1958). "HE NEVER LEFT HOME: Los Angeles Native John Gavin Wanted No Part of Pictures, So Producers Beat a Path to His Door". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. f12.
  12. ^ Tinee, Mae (January 19, 1958). "A Sneak Look Via Film Test of New Actor". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. e9.
  13. ^ Hopper, Hedda (April 16, 1958). "José Ferrer to Produce Broadway Play in Fall". Chicago Daily Tribune.
  14. ^ "Remarks By Rackmil". Variety. March 19, 1958. p. 20. Retrieved October 5, 2021 – via Archive.org.
  15. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (April 20, 1958). "RECALLS WORLD WAR I 'ALL QUIET': Remarque's 'Time to Love Has Few Faults, Rates as Memorable Film A TOWN CALLED HOLLYWOOD Remarque's 'Time to Love' Vivid, at Times Shocking". Los Angeles Times. p. E1.
  16. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  17. ^ Hollinger, Hy (March 12, 1958). "Rackmil's New U-Turn Due". Variety. p. 3. Retrieved October 2, 2021 – via Archive.org.
  18. ^ Billings, Josh (December 18, 1958). "Others in the Money". Kinematograph Weekly. p. 7.
  19. ^ "The 31st Academy Awards (1959) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  20. ^ "IMDB.com: Awards for A Time to Love and a Time to Die". imdb.com. Retrieved December 31, 2009.

External links[edit]