Cast & Crew
Illustrating his points through the use of maps, graphs, animation and acted scenes, the film's narrator explains that soldiers can be affected by many different kinds of psychological disturbances. For example, a soldier may freeze while throwing grenades for the first time, or an experienced soldier may be overcome by depression. Another soldier may suffer from back pains which have no physical cause. The film presents an explanation of the effect of early childhood training on an individual's psychological strength and describes the youths of several boys to exemplify the ideas. The narrator then states that between fifty and seventy percent of the entire population have some degree of personality disorder, and one of every eighteen will spend some time in a mental hospital. The same statistics hold true for the armed forces. In an effort to weed out men who are more susceptible to mental problems, fourteen out of every 100 men are rejected during the Army's induction screening. Even so, the narrator notes, each soldier will react differently to wartime stresses. During World War II, there were over 600,000 neuropsychiatric admissions to Army hospitals. The narrator likens the range of psychological problems to "shades of gray." Re-enactments of several official case histories are shown. The narrator then enumerates some of the factors that encourage psychological well-being in soldiers, including high morale, belief in the justice of their cause, confidence in their weapons and training, recognition of personal ability, pride in their unit and confidence in their leaders. Measures intended to prevent psychological problems include educating soldiers so that they know what to expect on the battlefield and training officers to recognize early symptoms of a breakdown. Using re-enactments to illustrate his points, the narrator explains various approaches to curing the psychologically damaged soldier, including hospitalization, drugs, individual and group therapy, occupational therapy, change of environment, entertainment and social activities. The film concludes by stating that about forty percent of the soldiers are able to return to their units after some form of treatment, while others may be reassigned to positions farther from the front. Only about ten percent of the men who experience neuropsychiatric trouble must return to convalescent hospitals in the United States.
A written foreword states that the film presents a summary of "experiences gained in the prevention and treatment of neuropsychiatric cases in World War II" and adds that it is based on re-enacted official case histories. "Although actual patients are not shown, their expressions, reactions, gestures, and speech have been carefully reproduced." The Variety review states that several of the actors were civilian professionals and enlisted men assigned to the Army's Photographic Center. The same review notes that the film was shot at the Army hospital at Northport, Long Island and at Astoria Studios, also on Long Island. Many of the incidents portrayed in Shades of Gray were based on real cases depicted in the John Huston documentary Let There Be Light (see entry above). The Hollywood Reporter reviewer erroneously states that Shades of Gray was placed in production before Huston began work on Let There Be Light. Rather, according to Variety, the Army produced Shades of Gray in response to civilian demand for the theatrical release of Let There Be Light. Trade screenings of the picture ran 67 to 68 minutes, but the release print was cut to 40 minutes, according to AMPAS records. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.