An army doctor works with a World War II veteran in the 1946 John Huston documentary "Let There Be Light."
"The guns are quiet now," is the first line in John Huston's 1946 short film, "Let There Be Light," which focuses on World War II veterans dealing with what we'd today call post-traumatic stress disorder.
Quiet, perhaps. But the echoes of those guns were still ringing in the minds of many returning soldiers -- much as they still are with modern veterans.
Huston, himself a veteran and director of such films as "The Maltese Falcon" and "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," filmed soldiers being treated at Long Island's Mason General Hospital for what at the time was called shellshock.
Some soldiers in the film suffered visible tics, shook uncontrollably, stuttered badly, and in worse cases, couldn't walk or talk due to their wartime experience. Others appeared fine externally, but were battling nightmares, memories of combat, and other issues.
One man breaks down simply while trying to tell a psychiatrist about a photograph of his sweetheart, another says that after seeing so many friends die, he made the assumption he was next.
The hour-long documentary, with brief narration by Huston's father, Oscar-winner Walter Huston, was a revelation for its time, for its unprecedented film techniques as well as its content. It uses unscripted footage of doctors treating patients -- unheard of for such films at the time -- and is shot and lit like a major Hollywood movie. It also broke ground by showing both black and white soldiers freely mixing at the hospital, sharing both group therapy sessions and playing sports together.
Both black and white soldiers are shown in integrated therapy groups, which may have been part of the reason the Army shelved the film for so long.
It's believed that a mix of those reasons was what led the Army to all but suppress the film until 1980, when it released a poorly edited version, with some dialogue completely inaudible.
"We don't know what combination it was that (the Army) didn't like," said Annette Melville, director of the National Film Preservation Foundation, which funded the film's restoration.
Not only was the film suppressed, but in 1947, the Army released "Shades of Gray," a film that's essentially a remake of Huston's work, even lifting dialogue from "Let There Be Light" and putting it into the mouths of actors -- all of them white.
A fully restored version of Huston's original film is available for free online viewing for three months on the National Film Preservation Foundation's website. And in a time when modern veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are dealing with similiar issues, many believe that the 65-year-old footage can still be relevant.
"If you listen to the dialogue, it could have been recorded yesterday," Melville told msnbc.com. She hopes that younger veterans will find something to relate to in the film, and says that that interested viewers can not only watch it online, but download the entire film and add it to their own websites, as the footage is in the public domain.
While mental-health issues involving veterans have been much in the news in recent years, Ron Honberg, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told msnbc.com that seeing those issues dealt with in the setting of World War II is especially interesting, since society at the time wasn't open about such issues.
"I would say it's relevant (to modern veterans)," Honberg says. "The wartime experience is among the most horrendous experiences that people can go through. My dad, who fought in World War II, lost two of his friends right in front of him."
Honberg notes that although mental-health issues make the news more in 2012 than they did in the film's time, returning soldiers today still struggle with acceptance and treatment issues. And thanks to the different ways wars are fought today, brain injuries are just as much, if not more, of an issue as they were in the past.
"The injuries these days are different," Honberg said. "More soldiers are coming back with concussive injuries, and those are brain injuries."
Although the film is in black and white and is more than 60 years old, it may be more timely now than when it was released back in 1980.
"(In 1980) the film could look more old-fashioned both because of the rough, hand-held cinema verite styles then in fashion for documentaries and because the U.S. had no major wars from which soldiers were returning," said Scott Simmon, a film historian and chair of the English department at University of California, Davis, who wrote an essay about the preservation of the film. "Now the PTSD subject again looks, sadly enough, right up-to-date and documentaries have a wider range of acceptable styles — including such elegant ones as those in Huston’s film."
Film techniques aside, the message of the men and the demons they battle are as affecting today as they were in 1946.
"My own, no doubt hopeful sense is that — now that the film, and especially its sound, has been restored — direct emotions again come through from the psychologically wounded World War II soldiers," Simmon said. "There is something both heartbreaking and yet optimistic about the stories they tell and their recoveries."
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