Civilization (1916)

CIVILIZATION (1916)
Article 4776 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-8-2015
Directed by Reginald Barker, Thomas H. Ince, Raymond B. West, Walter Edwards, David Hartford, Jay Hunt, J. Parker Read Jr.
Featuring Howard C. Hickman, Enid Markey, Lola May
Country: USA
What it is: Anti-war allegory

The king of a mythical country declares war to further his ambitions. The war devastates the country until a Count, in limbo between life and death, meets Jesus Christ, who takes over the Count’s body to bring peace.

This movie was apparently inspired by the phrase that was crucial to Woodrow Wilson’s presidency campaign of 1916, “He kept us out of war.” It’s a message movie that wears its message on its sleeve, which is simply that we can’t really call ourselves civilized while we still wage war. It takes place in what is probably a mythical country, but given the costume designs, I suspect that it’s a stand-in for Germany; the subplot about the use of submarines to wage war further backs this up. Though the movie is technically well made, it is naive and rather threadbare in terms of character and plot; it’s too busy trying to preach to come up with either interesting characters or a compelling story. In fact, the movie is ultimately a variation on the Scrooge story, only it takes three-quarters of its running time before the King is finally visited by this movie’s version of that story’s ghosts. As a result, the movie gets rather dull and predictable. And, given what happened in history after the movie was made, it wasn’t particularly effectual in preaching its message.

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