D.W. Griffith’s epic about “Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages” is surprisingly compelling for a silent film from 1916. “Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,” four stories take shape. In the modern tale, a working family endures greedy bosses, meddling “uplifters” and false murder charges. The other three stories tell of Christ’s crucifixion, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the fall of Babylon. As the opening credits helpfully announce, the common theme, invoked again and again, is intolerance (you have to say it with a booming carnival-barker’s voice: in-tol-er-ance!). The accelerating back-and-forth between historical periods keeps things interesting, and of course you already heard about the unbelievable sets of the Babylonian sections. The gargantuan siege contains more than a few moments that will seem familiar from The Lord of the Rings, but hey, everybody’s ripping off Peter Jackson. Intolerance is recommended for anyone; if you have a taste for silent film, it’s a must-see.

Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages. D.W. Griffith, 1916. ****

Here are ten minutes of the siege of Babylon: