The Last Valley (1970 film)
|The Last Valley|
|Directed by||James Clavell|
|Produced by||James Clavell|
|Written by||James Clavell
|Music by||John Barry|
|Edited by||John Bloom|
|Distributed by||Cinerama Releasing Corporation|
|Running time||128 minutes|
The Last Valley is a 1970 historical drama film directed by James Clavell. Set during the Thirty Years War, it stars Michael Caine as the leader of a band of mercenaries, and Omar Sharif as a teacher fleeing from the violence endemic to Germany during this period. They manage to find one valley, untouched by war, in which they live in peace, at least for a time. It was based on the novel of the same name by J.B. Pick.
"The Captain" (Michael Caine) leads a band of ruthless mercenaries who fight for the highest bidder regardless of religion. His men pillage the countryside, raping and looting when not engaged in actual military operations. Vogel (Omar Sharif) is a former teacher who is merely trying to survive the overall slaughter taking place throughout south-central Germany. He runs from The Captain's forces and eventually stumbles upon an idyllic mountain vale, seemingly untouched by war.
The Captain and his small band are not far behind. Trapped in the valley, Vogel convinces The Captain to preserve it and the village it shelters for their own benefit as the outside world faces famine and devastation. "Live", Vogel tells The Captain, "while the army dies." The Captain decides that his men will indeed rest here for the winter. He forces the locals to submit, especially their headman Gruber (Nigel Davenport). The local Catholic priest (Per Oscarsson) is livid that the mercenaries include a number of Protestants (and nihilistic atheists for that matter), but there is little he can do to sway The Captain. The mercenaries are of one mind after The Captain kills a dissenting member of his band, and religious and ethnic divisions are set aside.
At first, the locals accept their fate. Vogel is appointed judge by Gruber, to settle disputes between villagers and soldiers. As long as food, shelter, and a small number of women are provided, the mercenaries leave the locals alone. Hansen (Michael Gothard) attempts to rape a girl and, exiled from the group, manages to lead a rival mercenary band to the valley, before the winter sets in and closes the valley to all outsiders. He and his band are destroyed and the valley goes into hibernation. But as winter fades, it becomes obvious that the soldiers will have to leave. The Captain learns of a major military campaign in the Upper Rhineland and decides to leave the valley in order to participate. Vogel wants to accompany him, fearing Gruber will have him killed once The Captain leaves. However, The Captain orders Vogel to stay as the condition of not sacking the village, leaving a few men as guards.
After The Captain departs, his woman Erika (Florinda Bolkan) from the village is caught engaging in devil-worshipping witchcraft. The priest orders her tortured and burned at the stake, and one of The Captain's men kills the priest by pushing him into the fire. Meanwhile, the Captain and his men engage in a major siege operation. Most of his men are killed. The Captain survives long enough to return to the valley, only to find himself ambushed by the villagers, and Vogel trying to escape before the villagers kill him too. The Captain dies of his battle wounds, declaring to Vogel, "You were right. I was wrong." A young woman from the village wants to leave with Vogel, but he tells her to stay, and runs off alone in the mist.
The film was an expensive failure. It earned rentals of $380,000 in North America and $900,000 in other countries, recording an overall loss of $7,185,000. With its setting in the Thirty Years' War, it covered a period heretofore never depicted on film (apart from 1933's Queen Christina). In this light, George MacDonald Fraser wrote in 1988, "The plot left me bewildered - in fact the whole bloody business is probably an excellent microcosm of the Thirty Years' War, with no clear picture of what is happening and half the cast ending up dead to no purpose. To that extent, it must be rated a successful film. ... As a drama, The Last Valley is not remarkable; as a reminder of what happened in Central Europe, 1618-48, and shaped the future of Germany, it reads an interesting lesson." Fraser says of the stars, "Michael Caine ... gives one of his best performances as the hard-bitten mercenary captain, nicely complemented by Omar Sharif as the personification of reason."