Cast & Crew
Lt. Col. Benjamin Simon
Capt. Charles Kaufman
During World War II, many soldiers suffering from injuries of a neuropsychiatric nature are sent to a special hospital for treatment. There, psychiatrists listen to the men's stories, which have in common death and the fear of death. The men will spend eight to ten weeks in the hospital. Treatment begins with physical exams to rule out any physical reasons for the soldiers' disorders. One soldier is diagnosed as suffering from psychosomatic paralysis. The doctor gives him a shot of sodium amytol, a drug which induces a state similar to hypnosis. Through conversation and suggestion, the paralysis is removed. The soldier is not completely cured, but doctors express confidence that the first step to recovery has been taken. The men engage in occupational therapy in order to "build rather than destroy." Sports help bring the men out of their emotional isolation, as does group therapy, during which the men learn that their feelings are common to others. Some problems, like amnesia, respond to hypnosis. During drug therapy, a stutterer is helped by recounting his battle experiences. As time passes, the men heal. In therapy, they wonder how they will be treated by their families and future employers if they reveal that they have been hospitalized for mental illness. Most agree that they will be honest and will be able to convince others that there is no shame attached to their condition.
The film's working title was Returning Soldier-The Psychoneurotic and is also identified onscreen as PMF 5019. The print in NARS is dated 1948. An opening statement indicates that no scenes in the film were staged and states that the film was shot at Mason General Hospital in Brentwood, NY. The viewed print begins with the following written statement: "To protect the privacy of the soldiers appearing in Let There Be Light, their names have been deleted. In all other respects, this film remains as originally written and directed by John Huston." The film was completed in 1945, but was first shown to the public in New York City on 16 January 1981.
Modern sources add the following information about the film: Huston was assigned to produce the documentary on June 25, 1945. In an interview, Huston stated that he was commissioned to make the film because at the time, returning soldiers with nervous and emotional problems were not getting jobs. "And there was no more disgrace to this discharge than if the man had been a physical casualty-had lost an arm or a leg." Huston shot 375,000 feet of film. The film was withheld from general release by the War Department, ostensibly because the rights of the men in the film had been violated, even though they had signed releases, according to Huston. On March 11, 1946, access to the film was restricted to seven military hospitals in the U.S., the Veteran's Administration, the U.S. Department of the Navy, service command Signal Corps libraries and overseas viewing by relevant military personnel. In the interview, Huston stated: "It was banned, I believe, because the War Department felt it was too strong medicine." Huston requested and received permission from Army public relations to show the picture at MOMA in the summer of 1946. Moments before the program was scheduled to start, however, the print was confiscated. New York City exhibitor Arthur Mayer, who had seen the film while working for the War Department, then tried unsuccessfully to persuade the authorities to release the film to the general public.
In 1971, James B. Rhodes, the head archivist at NARS, asked for permission to screen Let There Be Light as part of a salute to Huston and was informed that the ban was still in effect. An unauthorized screening of the film took place at LACMA on November 8, 1980. After viewing the documentary in November 1980, MPAA president Jack Valenti vowed to work for its release, and on December 16, 1980, Brigadier General Lyle Barker, deputy chief of affairs for the Army, lifted the ban. Shades of Gray , a documentary-drama based on incidents portrayed in Let There Be Light, was produced in 1947 and released in 1948. Modern sources add the following credits: Photography John Doran, Lloyd Fromm, Joseph Jackman and George Smith; Editing Gene Fowler, Jr. and William Reynolds.