F. Scott Fitzgerald got his only screen credit adapting Erich Maria Remarque's novel about three German war veterans, who love each other and a dying woman.
In November 1918 German soldiers drink to their dead comrades. Otto Koster (Franchot Tone), Gottfried Lenz (Robert Young), and Erich Lohkamp (Robert Taylor) toast each other, and Otto says good-bye to his plane.
In 1920 auto mechanics Gottfried and Otto see veterans rioting and give Erich rum for his birthday. They drive past Franz Breuer (Lionel Atwill), who asks to buy their car. They drink and dine with Breuer and Patricia Hollmann (Margaret Sullavan), whose parents died during the war. Erich calls Patricia, who makes a date. Erich finds her living in a room of her old house. Erich takes Pat to the bar of Alfons (Guy Kibbee), who plays records of choir music and gives them meat. Gottfried and Otto come in and join them. Pat tells Otto that she was ill. Erich takes her home and calls again. Pat tells Breuer that she won't run a shop for him at a ridiculous salary. Gottfried went to a meeting, and the car was damaged; but they fix it. Gottfried tells Dr. Heinrich Becker (Henry Hull) he can't help anymore. Otto says it will be better, and Gottfried's hat is shot off.
Erich tells Pat of his travels in South America. Erich dresses up to take Pat to the opera, and they join Breuer at a night-club. Erich's clothes fall apart, and he leaves. Erich drinks with Otto and Gottfried but finds Pat at his door at dawn. Gottfried tells Erich to marry Pat, and Otto urges Pat to marry Erich. Pat says her illness will come back. At Alfons's Erich weds Pat, who kisses Erich, Otto, Gottfried, and Alfons. Erich drives Pat to the beach. He learns that she is ill and calls Otto to get Dr. Jaffe (Monty Woolley) to stop the hemorrhaging. Otto with Dr. Jaffe drives fast in fog. Dr. Jaffe says that Pat must go into a sanitarium by October.
Erich looks for a job and gets a car to repair. Other repairmen fight him, Otto, and Gottfried. In late October Otto and Gottfried hear Dr. Becker speak and rescue him from a violent mob. Dr. Jaffe calls Erich that Pat must go. Erich and Otto say good-bye to Pat as she boards a train. Otto and Erich see Gottfried shot while escaping with Dr. Becker. Gottfried dies in their arms. Pat needs an operation. At Alfons's Erich plays piano at Christmas. Otto goes after the young man who shot Gottfried and kills him in a shoot-out. Erich gets a wire from Pat and calls her. Erich and Otto drive to visit Pat. Erich gets the bill and shows it to Otto, who sells the car. After the operation Pat tells Otto she doesn't want to drag them down. Otto tells Pat that Gottfried died honorably and bravely. Erich and Pat plan to go to South America. Pat gets up, walks, and collapses. Erich comforts her as she dies. As Erich and Otto leave the cemetery, the spirits of Gottfried and Pat join them.
Post-war German difficulties are the background for this moving drama of close friendships as veterans and aristocrats have economic problems.