As the recent review of the Olive Films Blu-ray release of the restored 1914 Hungarian silent film "The Undesirable" mentions, Olive is also the force behind the Blu-ray of the controversial John Huston WWII documentary "Let There Be Light." This brings that film into the sunshine after several decades of the Army suppressing this look at treating the veterans of that war for PTSD. (The juvenile impulse to state "Huston, we have a problem" regarding this censorship is too strong to resist.)
The Hollywood Royalty pedigree of Huston starts with "The Maltese Falcon" and goes on to include fellow Bogart classics "Key Largo" and "The African Queen." His latter work includes "Prizzi's Honor."
The following YouTube clip of footage from "Light" conveys the rawness and the power of the film.
The comprehensive 26-minute introduction that precedes "Light" and the other three WWII-era documentaries from the time that Huston spends in the Army uber-awesomely explores every film and how each of them reflect the impact of the war on the psyche of Huston. The coverage of the re-enactments in the latter two of the films, and the audio clips of Huston discussing the productions are highlights.
The first documentary, "Winning Your Wings," is a delightful 1942 short in which charming and earnest Army fly boy Lt. Jimmy Stewart puts his folksy manner to good use regarding selling high school and college boys on voluntarily enlisting in the Army Air Corps before their draft number comes up. Stewart emphasizing the monetary compensation, the possibility of starting in the middle, and the wide range of available jobs is upbeat and wholesome fun.
The less upbeat Academy Award winning 45-minute documentary "Report From the Aleutians" achieves the genre ideal of entertaining and informing. We learn of the harsh climate of the titular land masses off the Alaskan coast, their strategic importance, and the men who are stationed there. The scope of this coverage also includes the men who do not return from the daily attacks on the nearby Japanese stronghold. In other words, "Aleutians" depicts the daily lives of the folks whom "Wings" entices to join the military.
The roughly hour-long "Light," which is a National Film Registry selection, is a documentary in the purest sense. Huston merely turns on the camera and lets the traumatized newly returned soldiers and the psychiatrists who are treating them at the stateside Army hospital do their thing. We meet both groups on the arrival of soldiers and follow their stories until the end of their hospitalizations.
The unflinching eye of the aforementioned camera does a good job capturing the twitching eyes and other nervous tics of the patients. We additionally hear their stories directly from their mouths. As the narration explains, much of the problem stems from these boys being taught while growing up that war and killing are bad but then being forced into the middle of both in their late teens.
Olive Films presenting these documentaries (as well as an unwatched film on the fighting in San Pietro, Italy) in chronological order helps the audience understand why Huston goes from gung-ho to gun shy during the war. A large portion of the American public experiencing comparable feelings creates the bonus of Huston expressing these validly unpatriotic views during an era of rampant propaganda presenting far less realistic images of the war.
The BD extras consist of the raw camera footage from "Pietro" and the entire "Grey" documentary.
Anyone with any thoughts regarding seeing the "Light" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.