“Huston’s wish was to let America see and understand the fragile emotional state of many returning vets.”
A CONTROVERSIAL1946 documentary by legendary Hollywood film maker John Huston has been restored and can finally seen by the public, seven decades after being withheld by the U.S. military.
Huston, who is perhaps best known for his 1941 film noir classic The Maltese Falcon, joined the army after Pearl Harbor. His cameras captured much of the action on Midway Island during the 1942 battle there as well as the intense fighting in the Italian campaign.
Let There Be Light was equally hard hitting. The gritty, realistic documentary pulls few punches as it shows the war’s psychological impacts on the young men who fought in it. Huston’s wish was to let America see and understand the fragile emotional state of many returning vets.
Despite its initial interest in having the story told, the army eventually swooped in to suppress the film just prior to its release. In fact, military officials seized a print of Let There Be Light just moments before it premiered in New York in 1946. No other copies were distributed. The Pentagon claimed the film violated the privacy of the vets appearing in it. Huston wrote later that he believed the military brass feared that movie’s portrayal of the emotionally destroyed soldiers might have upended the popular narrative that GIs were fearless warriors who returned from the war better men for the experience.
The film is also notable for its real-life depiction of African American and white vets freely mingling and interacting with each other — a concept that would have seemed out of place in much of pre-civil rights America. A subsequent reshoot of the movie by the military tried to tell a sanitized version of the story using all white actors, none of them real combat veterans.
In 1980, the army planned to finally make the original film available, but the master print had deteriorated by that point making it unwatchable. Digital technology has since enabled film historians to restore Let There Be Light to its original quality.
The movie has been released on the Internet and is available for free to anyone.
Annette Melville of the National Film Preservation Foundation, the organization that funded the picture’s restoration, says Let There Be Light has a new found relevance as American combat troops return from Afghanistan and Iraq with many of the same emotional disorders suffered by veterans of previous wars.
“We hope that by making Let There Be Light freely available — and by drawing attention to it — that the courageous documentary will find the audience it was intended to serve,” said Melville in a press release.
To watch Let There Be Light, click on the link below.
(Originally published, May 25, 2012)