The National Archives and Records Administration’s restoration of Let There Be Light (1946), John Huston’s controversial World War II documentary about the rehabilitation of psychologically scarred combat veterans can now be downloaded online.
The third in the World War II trilogy commissioned from Academy Award-winning director John Huston by the US Army Signal Corps, Let There Be Light follows the treatment of emotionally traumatized GIs from their admission at a racially integrated psychiatric hospital to their reentry into civilian life.
Made decades before post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) entered the vocabulary, the documentary was created to help Americans understand the challenges faced by returning veterans and to demonstrate that the psychological wounds of war are very real and could heal through therapy.
The War Department pulled the film shortly before its premiere at the Museum of Modern Art and commissioned a replacement in which white actors took all the speaking roles and the GIs upbringing was blamed for their psychological condition instead of war trauma. Let There Be Light was first shown publicly in December 1980, after a chorus of Hollywood leaders, joined by Vice President Walter Mondale, persuaded the Secretary of the Army, Clifford Alexander, Jr., to authorize its release.
Let There Be Light holds a special place in documentary film history for its almost unprecedented use of unscripted interviews. Only now, with the new National Archives soundtrack restoration, can these interviews—many with battle-weary soldiers who can only mumble or whisper personal stories—be heard with their full emotional force.
The documentary will be available for free streaming and downloading and presented with extras providing historical context, including:
- The Battle of San Pietro (1945), the second film in Huston’s WWII trilogy
- The Reawakening (1919), about the treatment of returning WW1 veterans
- A documentary about the National Archives Motion Picture Archival Unit
- Program notes about the film and its restoration
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