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.
The OliveFilms Blu-ray release of the recently discovered and restored 1914 Hungarian silent film "The Undesirable" makes a terrific topic for the inaugural Unreal TV review of an Olive release and an apt opportunity to touch on the Olive release of four recently released John Huston WWII-era propaganda films during his tenure in the Army. This (soon-to-be-reviewed) collection is under the title of the (until recently banned) documentary "Let There Be Light." The decades-long suppression of this documentary on treating WWII soldiers for PTSD relates to the film not being flattering toward the military.
General notable things that must be said regarding "Undesirable, " which "Casablanca" director Michael Curtiz helms. are that the dialog title cards are in English and that the picture quality is virtually flawless; there is nary a scratch or other defect, and there are absolutely no jerky edits. The toned backgrounds in a few spots contributes nice richness to the film.
Additionally, the newly commissioned orchestral score is perfect to the degree that the music is coordinated with the breathing of the actors. This makes the viewing experience light years beyond the piano playing that often accompanies silent films.
The story centers around 20-something Betty, who flees to the big city in the wake of a literal deathbed confession. The ensuing adventures of Betty include becoming a working girl, falling in love with a charming and good-looking young man whom the society of that day (and ours) considers out of her league, being accused of a crime, literally confronting her past, and obtaining justice regarding those developments. The commentary on the bourgeois lifestyle is tasty icing on the cake.
The talents of the actors and the behind-the-camera crew exceed all expectations regarding "Undesirable" being a run-of-the-mill silent film. The cast does adhere to the American model of over emoting due to their stage training and the lack of spoken dialog, but do so to a far less degree than their American cousins. The better sets and reduced melodrama are further enhancements regarding typical American fare from the same era.
All of the above results in a good chance to see a long-lost film that is still highly relevant and entertaining 102 years after its debut.