A Time To Love And A Time To Die isn’t director Douglas Sirk’s best movie. Like most of his films, it’s high on melodrama, however unlike the others it just doesn’t come together. You can feel Sirk’s passion shining through, but the film never really feels authentic enough.
John Gavin takes the lead as Ernst, a young German soldier who returns to his hometown to find it destroyed by the ravages of war. He meets and falls in love with Elizabeth (Liselotte Pulver), but their relationship faces the interruption of the ongoing war and the ticking clock of Ernst’s return to the front.
The film’s major failing is the casting of John Gavin as Ernst. Gavin is not a leading man and it’s a shame he is the main focus. Gavin is something of a charisma void and maybe this melodrama would have worked if the lead was made of sterner stuff. While Sirk’s leading man of choice, Rock Hudson, would have been too masculine (seriously), Gavin is just too limp and comes across as too petulant. Making a German soldier in a WWII film sympathetic is a difficult task (even one as noble as Ernst), but Gavin doesn’t have what it takes to take you on that journey.
Sirk always makes good looking films and A Time To Love And A Time To Die is no different. It’s a beautifully shot film (by Russell Metty), filled with well composed Cinemascope images (this blu-ray looks great). It’s therefore a shame that the movie is so plodding – it clocks in at 132 minutes. It’s an old fashioned war movie for romantics – a ‘woman’s picture’ in a crisp German uniform.
A Time To Love And A Time To Die isn’t a bad film, it’s just not engaging enough. Sirk was passionate about bringing it to the screen and it’s a shame that the film doesn’t work as a piece of entertainment.
A Time To Love And A Time To Die has a great bunch of features. A 12 minute visual essay from Jean-Luc Goddard, a great 20 minute chat with screenwriter (and Sirk fan) Wesley Strick, a 50 minute documentary from featuring Sirk and his wife, Hilda as well as the obligatory trailer and the option to watch the film with just the film’s score and sound effects. This Masters of Cinema blu-ray also comes with a 36 page book. This is a truly fascinating collection of features which gives you a stronger appreciation of the film and Sirk’s career and life.