When the Hollywood film “The Monuments Men” hits the big screens today, the tale of the search for art treasures stolen by the Nazis will be brought to the world’s attention in a big way. But the film does not directly name the group’s original members — including one from Gloucester — who entered World War II to stop the largest art theft in mankind’s history.
Gloucester resident Walker Hancock (1901-1998), one of America’s great sculptors of the 20th century, was called upon to safeguard and recover Europe’s national treasures during the war when millions of items were stolen.
The film is directed and co-written by George Clooney, who also stars in the work, based on a book by Robert Edsel. Although Edsel’s book was not the first written on the subject, it was the work that captured the interest and imagination of the filmmaking superstar, who wanted to bring this piece of history to life.
Deanie Hancock French, daughter of the award-winning sculptor, attended a screening with the author and others in New York City on Tuesday evening.
“Clooney and Edsel have done an important service by getting the story out before the public, and for that I am grateful,” she said in a phone interview yesterday. “As citizens of the world, we rely on the threads of all the people who came before us. It’s a lively movie and gets to the story. It romanticizes some things but it delivers the message — we must not desecrate our human history.”
The star-studded cast also features Matt Damon, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, and Hugh Bonneville. The characters are more composites of the actual Monuments Men, than always based on fact.
Goodman plays the role of “the sculptor” who was given the name Walter Garfield. Those who knew Walker Hancock recalled how he disliked being called “Walter.” He was also a man of slender build at 136 pounds, unlike the more corpulent Goodman. Goodman’s character at one point says that he never shot a gun. But Hancock did, and received a marksmanship medal at one point.