John Huston Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The look of [Let There Be Light] is unexceptional, as is the editing. The lighting is like that of every other wartime documentary; the editing is in shot and reverse shot for conversation, quick cross fades for time lapse, etc. The exceptional quality of the film is not cinematic: it's in the concern of the filmmaker and the nakedness of the subjects.

A group of combat soldiers arrives at a US army hospital suffering from various kinds of shell shock, as it used to be called…. Each one gets an interview with an army psychiatrist in which sodium amytol is injected or hypnosis is used to relieve stress and enable him to talk. Each one is "cured"—at least to the point where, six weeks later, they are all playing softball and then are discharged from the hospital. (p. 20)

The film is misleading. It says nothing about the possibility of recurrence in these men; and, worse, it says nothing about the sufferers with combat psychoneurosis who took longer to leave or who never got out of hospitals…. There is no instance in the film of a soldier who did not respond fairly quickly to treatment: and no hint that there were others in worse shape who could not have been discharged.

I don't impute craftiness to Huston—at the time of making the film, anyway. He took a giant first step, as large as he was presumably permitted at the time, maybe even a bit further. Milestones are honorable, essential: Light is a milestone. But—and it's not the first instance—suppression has helped its reputation. (pp. 20-1)

Stanley Kauffmann, "Old But New, New But Old," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1981 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 184, No. 5, January 31, 1981, pp. 20-1.∗