This department does not ordinarily concern itself with a movie. The Bulletin has a special section for that purpose. But by its very nature, the film “Are We Civilized?” which opens at the Rivoli Theatre this Wednesday, belongs in these columns. Because it is not a great cinematic achievement, it may not receive much comment from our theatrical reviewer. It is, however, the finest piece of anti-Hitler propaganda yet seen in New York.
Three recent plays have taken the oppression of the Jews for their theme. The George Arliss picture, “The House of Rothschild,” has been called a plea against Nazidom by some, and numerous books have been issued with a similar purpose. None, though, achieves the heights of propaganda reached by “Are We Civilized?”
Laid in one of those mythical kingdoms, which in this case could only be Hitlerland, the film depicts freedom of thought and expression in conflict with a civilization that has come to the world through the ages.
The picture shows Paul Anderson as manager of the Berlin bureau (we’ll leave mythology to the picture) of the World News Service, which his father heads. He is engaged to marry the daughter of the head of Prussian Bureau of Censorship. His father, a boyhood friend of Paul’s prospective father-in-law, is visiting Germany. And then censorship descends upon the news office. The father is incensed.
He goes to a dinner that evening in his honor-he served Germany in the war before going to the United States-and delivers a speech lamenting the tragedy that has befallen his birthplace. He attacks the regime, calls censorship utterly ridiculous and berates the government for descending to racial and religious discrimination.
His speech is cut off the air. The dinner breaks up. The father and son return home. The ruling oligarchy decide that a public retraction is the only way out for the elder Anderson.
The son leaves for his office to find it is being razed and the library is being burned. The father comes downstairs to find the son’s personal library suffering a similar fate. While the two are attempting to stop the stormtroopers, the apology seekers enter. Their demand is refused and they receive a lecture instead. Then, in narrative and picture, the history of civilization is unfolded.
Pre-historic man’s beginnings, the giving of the Law to Moses, Buddha starting another great religion, Mohammed spiritualizing the Arabs, Confucius leading the Chinese, and Jesus reiterating the spirit of brotherhood are shown. Further episodes show the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Napoleon’s defeat, the Civil War, and the World War. The charge is made pictorially that Germany is pointing the way toward another more terrible catastrophe.
There is romance and there is personal tragedy, but this is not a picture of persons. It is strictly the bearer of a message, a plea for world peace and brotherhood among all peoples. As such it is magnificent. Its development is dramatic and effective.
It’s a shame this production was not made by one of the major companies, that a million was not spent on it, that its narrative of civilization’s growth was no developed without financial stint. This picture has epic qualities not quite realized.
It was made, for the most part, in the cutting rooms. Excerpts from newsreels and from many pictures of the past-“The Birth of a Nation,” “Abraham Lincoln,” “The Ten Commandments” and numerous World War pictures-are a part of it.
But despite this, “Are We Civilized?” is great propaganda for world peace. For that reason it deserves support. Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt has already endorsed it. Many more will follow her example.