Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The movie vs. the book, kind of:

Just wanted to update you on the movie we watched, The Scarlet and the Black. Good movie, long movie -- about 2 1/2 hours. We didn't think we'd want to watch the whole thing in one wack, but we sure did! Gregory Peck is a cocky, wonderful Monseigneur O'Flaherty, outwitting the horrifically evil Nazi, Col. Kappler, played by Christopher Plummer. (Yes, it was a little hard to see Cptn. Von Trapp as a Nazi!) This movie is all about O'Flaherty and his work to hide Allied POWs and Jews in Rome, during its Nazi occupation. And evidently the book this movie was taken from was called The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican. (And don't get me started on The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of my all-time favorites!)

So, where does the book that I'm reading come in, A Vatican Lifeline '44? This book is told from a different perspective, the perspective of one escaped Scottish POW, Bill Simpson, who becomes the arms and legs of O'Flaherty's operation, who dodges around Rome, takes daily risks with his life, learns Italian, suffers weeks of imprisonment, and saves the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. This book is a tribute to all those who took risks to save the soldiers, particularly the simple Italian folk who harbored them. It's written in a plain, frank style, in an attitude that seems typical of the brave WW2 soldier -- a devil-may-care, impudent, cocky, brave, clever, heart-felt attitude of devotion to duty and freedom. I may be wrong, but this same persona comes through to me in many accounts I've read by WW2 vets. Simpson describes himself and his friends as "cavalier" and "audacious."

I finished the book today. It is full of detail, but enjoyable. Simpson is no professional writer, but manages to keep the narrative moving quickly, does not lose his reader in the confusion of names and places and secret rendevous, and includes just enough pathos and feeling to warm the page. My parents got this copy from his widow, a personal friend, who has quite a number, but I have no idea if you can find it easily in print.

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