Let There Be Light (film)

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Let There Be Light
PMF 5019
Screenshot from the film
Directed by John Huston
Produced by John Huston
Written by John Huston
Charles Kaufman (uncredited)
Narrated by Walter Huston (uncredited)
Distributed by U.S. Army
Release dates
1946 (film completed)
1948 (date on title card)
1981 (actual release)
Running time
58 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Let There Be Light (1946) — known to the U.S. Army as PMF 5019 — is a documentary film directed by American filmmaker John Huston (1906–1987). It was the last in a series of three films[1] directed by Huston while serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II.


Seventy-five U.S. service members — recent combat veterans suffering from various "nervous conditions" including psychoneurosis, battle neurosis, conversion disorder, amnesia, severe stammering, and anxiety states — are followed in the course of their medical management. A series of scenes chronicles their entry into the military psychiatric hospital, treatment, and eventual recovery and discharge, all typically in a period of 6 to 8 weeks. Treatments depicted include narcosynthesis, hypnosis, group psychotherapy, music therapy and work therapy. The highlighted cases are presented as marked therapeutic successes, accompanied by upbeat musical cues, although the narrator cautions after one dramatic recovery that "the neurosis is not cured".[2] The patients, who explain themselves to the doctors on camera at some length, are treated soberly and with dignity, while the therapies are presented in an optimistic and flattering manner. The film ends with a number of the featured patients participating in a ceremony in which they are discharged, not just from the hospital, but from military service, and returned to civilian life.


The film was shot during spring 1945 at Edgewood State Hospital, Deer Park, Long Island, New York which between 1944 and 1946 was part of Mason General Hospital, a psychiatric hospital run by the United States War Department named for an Army doctor and general. In 1948, the film was remade with professional actors and retitled Shades of Gray (PMF 5047).

Reception, suppression, and release[edit]

The film was controversial in its portrayal of psychologically traumatized veterans of the war. "Twenty percent of our army casualties", the narrator says, "suffered psychoneurotic symptoms: a sense of impending disaster, hopelessness, fear, and isolation."[3] Apparently due to the potentially demoralizing effects the film might have on post-war recruitment, it was subsequently banned by the Army after its production, although some pirated copies had been made. Military police once confiscated a print Huston was about to show friends at the Museum of Modern Art. The Army claimed it invaded the privacy of the soldiers involved, and the releases Huston had obtained were lost; the War Department refused to get new ones.[3] The film's eventual release in the 1980s by Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander, Jr. was attributed to his friend Jack Valenti who worked to get the ban lifted. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival.[4] The National Archives now sells and rents copies of the film and, as a federal government work, it is in the public domain.


  • In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[5][6]
  • P.T. Anderson's 2012 film The Master borrowed lines and themes from Let There Be Light, which is included as an extra on the DVD/Blu-ray releases of The Master.

Further reading[edit]

  • Simon Rothöhler: "Rückkehr des Verdrängten. Eine Mediengeschichte zu John Hustons Let There Be Light," in: Mittelweg 36, vol. 24, No 3, June/July 2015, pp. 4−18


  1. ^ The others were Report from the Aleutians (1943) and The Battle of San Pietro (1945).
  2. ^ Canby, Vincent (January 16, 1981), "'LET THERE BE LIGHT,' JOHN HUSTON VS. THE ARMY", New York Times, retrieved Sep 2010 
  3. ^ a b Michael Kernan (Feb 12, 1981), "War Casualty, John Huston's 1945 Film Now Public", Washington Post 
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Let There Be Light". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  5. ^ "'Empire Strikes Back' among 25 film registry picks". Retrieved 28 December 2010. 
  6. ^ Barnes, Mike (28 December 2010). "'Empire Strikes Back,' 'Airplane!' Among 25 Movies Named to National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 28 December 2010. 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]