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World War II-Era Film in NLM Collection Named to National Film Registry

John Huston's "Let There Be Light" is Unblinking Look at Psychological Trauma among Combat Veterans


The motion picture, Let There Be Light (1946), an early generation of which is held in the collections of the National Library of Medicine, has been named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Directed by multiple Oscar-winner John Huston, Let There Be Light was commissioned by the United States Army Signal Corps. It was photographed at the Edgewood State Hospital, Deer Park, Long Island, NY between 1944 and 1946. Edgewood State Hospital was part of Mason General Hospital, a psychiatric hospital run by the United States War Department.

The Pentagon banned Let There Be Light from public distribution for 35 years due to its frank depiction of psychological trauma among combat veterans. About 20% of all battle casualties in the American army during World War II were of a neuropsychiatric nature. Let There Be Light film shows how these casualties were treated by techniques of hypnosis and narcotics. As the opening statement of the film recounts: "No scenes were staged. The cameras merely recorded what took place in an Army Hospital."

Let There Be Light helps to reveal the historical roots of current concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder, both among military service members who have served in combat and among civilians who have experienced trauma in their lives. 

The copy of Let There Be Light held by NLM is an original reversal positive, one generation removed from the camera original. The film is part of the Library's Historical Audiovisuals Collection in its History of Medicine Division. Produced by a US government agency, the film has no copyright and is in the public domain. As a public service, the Library can prepare copies of the film, at cost, through its Historical Audiovisuals Program.  

The film collection at the National Library of Medicine contains over 30,000 titles and, because of the depth and breadth of the collections, it ranks as the foremost medical film archive in the world.

The National Library of Medicine, the world's largest medical library, is a component of the National Institutes of Health.