The Last Valley (film)

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The Last Valley
Directed byJames Clavell
Written byJames Clavell
Based onThe Last Valley
by J. B. Pick
Produced byJames Clavell
StarringMichael Caine
Omar Sharif
Florinda Bolkan
Nigel Davenport
Per Oscarsson
CinematographyJohn Wilcox
Edited byJohn Bloom
Music byJohn Barry
Season Productions
ABC Pictures Corporation
Distributed byCinerama Releasing Corporation
Release date
  • 28 January 1971 (1971-01-28)
Running time
128 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office$1,280,000[1]

The Last Valley is a 1971 film written and directed by James Clavell, an historical drama set during the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). While war ravages southern Germany, a mercenary leader (Michael Caine) and a teacher (Omar Sharif) stumble upon a valley untouched by the war. Based upon the novel The Last Valley (1959), by J. B. Pick,[2] the cinematic version of The Last Valley was the final feature film photographed with the Todd-AO 70 mm widescreen process until it was revived to make the film Baraka in 1991.

Michael Caine called it "the most disappointing picture I ever made. Disappointing not from the finished picture, but the reaction to it. It is a performance of which I’m particularly proud, one of the best performances I ever gave, as a matter of fact. For a start, it was anti-religious war at the time of Northern Ireland. I did the film to show what I felt about all the religions. But it meant absolutely nothing to the public, the critics were extremely unkind, and it was a terrible thing for me because everybody was sure it would be a big hit — and so was I."[3]


"The Captain" leads a band of mercenaries who fight for whoever will pay them, regardless of religion. His soldiers pillage the countryside, raping and looting when not fighting. "Vogel" is a former teacher trying to survive the fighting and resulting chaos in south-central Germany. Vogel runs from the Captain's force, and eventually stumbles upon an idyllic mountain valley, untouched by war.

The Captain and his small band are not far behind. Caught, Vogel convinces the Captain to preserve the village so it can shelter the band through the coming winter, as the outside world faces famine, plague and the devastation of war. "Live," Vogel tells the Captain, "while the army dies." The Captain thinks the idea is good. He kills Korski, one of his own men, without warning when Korski objects to the idea of desertion. The local headman, Gruber, submits, after obtaining the best terms he can.

The local Catholic priest is livid that the mercenaries include a number of Protestants (and nihilistic atheists for that matter), but there is nothing he can do to sway the Captain. The Captain kills several dissenting members of his band to uphold their pledge to set aside religious divisions.

The locals accept their fate. The Captain and Gruber agree to appoint Vogel as judge 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.

The Captain takes Gruber's wife, Erica, for himself. Hansen attempts to rape a girl. When Vogel stops him, he and two others try but fail to kill the Captain. They flee, but return with a larger mercenary band before the winter closes the valley to outsiders. However, the Captain has anticipated this, and Hansen and his band are destroyed.

From the first peddler to enter the valley in the spring, the Captain learns of a major military campaign in the Upper Rhineland and decides to seek employment with Bernard of Saxe-Weimar. 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 Geddes and Pirelli behind as guards.

After the Captain departs, the priest catches Erica praying to Satan to keep the Captain safe. The priest has her tortured and condemned to be burned at the stake. To spare her further suffering, Vogel kills her before her body is consigned to the flames. Enraged, Geddes pushes the priest into the fire and holds him there. Both are killed.

Meanwhile, the Captain and his men fight in a night assault on a fortified city. He returns to the valley with the only other survivor of his band. Vogel tries to warn him, but the Captain rides into an ambush set by Gruber. The Captain, however, is dying of his battle wounds, so there is no fighting. He tells Vogel, "You were right. I was wrong." Inge, a young woman who has fallen in love with Vogel, wants to leave with him, but he tells her to stay, and walks off alone.




The novel was published in 1960.[4] The New York Times called it "oddly compelling".[5] The Chicago Tribune called it "a strange and memorable book."[6]

In July 1967 it was announced that James Clavell, then enjoying success with the release of the film To Sir With Love and the book Tai-Pan, would adapt the book into a screenplay and direct a film adaptation for the Mirisch Corporation.[7]

In November 1968 it was announced Clavell would make the film for ABC Pictures.[8] The head of ABC was Martin Baum who was Clavell's agent and who had helped put together To Sir, with Love.[9]

Clavell was going to make the film after The Great Siege, a story of the Siege of Malta, which he was going to do after Where's Jack? (1967). He ended up not making Great Siege.[10] Before making The Last Valley he said he would write another book afterwards "to see if I've still got it."[11] (This would become Shogun.)

Omar Sharif was the first star to sign. By June 1969 Michael Caine had also signed on. At one stage the film was going to be called Somewhere in the Mountains There is a Last Valley. It had the biggest budget of any picture made to that point by ABC Pictures.[12] Caine was paid $750,000, Sharif $600,000.[13] At one stage the film was going to be called Somewhere in the Mountains There is a Last Valley or A Last Valley.

Clavell cast much of the supporting cast from British rep companies.[14]


Filming started 25 August 1969 in Austria.[15]

The film was mostly shot in Tyrol, Austria (Trins and Gschnitz and the Gschnitztal Valley). Actor Martin Miller collapsed and died on the set before shooting of the first scene commenced.[16]

Caine played a German. He later said, "I thought that the obvious trap was to play a German like a man trying to do a German accent; so I decided to play my character like a German trying to speak perfect English. I hired dialect records and listened to them non-stop for a few days. Then I put it out of my mind and tried to speak good English but with a German’s basic speech pattern."[17]

It was the first film for Brian Blessed who recalled it "was a happy experience for everyone involved. The director and his management were inordinately kind to us, doing everything in their power to make us comfortable."[18]

In October 1970 Clavell said he had been working on the film for three years. "I imagine that if I'd come along with the project six months later, it wouldn't have been made at all. By then the financial rot had set in." (A proposed film of his novel Tai Pan had been cancelled due to its cost.)[19]


Box office[edit]

Caine later claimed "I knew pretty well as soon as we finished filming that it wasn’t going to work at the box office."[20] The film was one of the most popular movies at the British box office in 1971.[21] However, it was an expensive failure overall. It earned rentals of $380,000 in North America and $900,000 in other countries; after deducting distribution costs it recorded an overall loss of $7,185,000.[1]

Caine later wrote in his memoirs, "I liked this film very much but it was not a success, due mainly I think to problems of timing. We were in the midst of the Vietnam War, and here was a story about the Hundred Year War in Germany, set in the Middle Ages."[22]


The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "unexpectedly terse, elegant and intelligent."[23]

Art Murphy of Variety said it was "disappointing" and faced "an uphill fight for domestic general audience attention".[24] The Evening Standard called it "an excellent advertisement for the Tyrolean Tourist Board."[25]

With its setting in the Thirty Years' War, it covered a period never previously 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."[26]

Home media[edit]

The Last Valley was released on VHS by Magnetic Video Corporation in 1981, and on CED by CBS/Fox Video in 1983. Since then, it has been released on DVD through three different labels: by Anchor Bay Entertainment on November 16, 1999, by MGM Home Entertainment on May 25, 2004, and by Kino Lorber Studio Classics (on both DVD and Blu-ray) on June 23, 2020.


  1. ^ a b c "ABC's 5 Years of Film Production Profits & Losses", Variety, 31 May 1973 p 3
  2. ^ Pick, J. B. (1960). The Last Valley. Boston; Toronto: Little, Brown and Company. OCLC 1449975.
  3. ^ Hall, William (2004). 70 not out : the authorised biography of Sir Michael Caine. John Blake. p. 221.
  4. ^ History Must Stop: The Last Valley. By J.B. Pick. 176 pp. Bottom Little, Brown & Co. $3.50. By Frederic Morton. New York Times 24 Jan 1960: BR4.
  5. ^ Books of The Times By Orville Prescott. The New York Times 22 Jan 1960: 25.
  6. ^ Memorable Little Tale of Thirty Years' War. Redman, Ben Ray. Chicago Daily Tribune 28 Feb 1960: b4.
  7. ^ Et Tu Pasolini? By A.H. Weiler. The New York Times] 30 July 1967: 81.
  8. ^ Movie Call Sheet: 'The Last Valley' for Clavell Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 8 Nov 1968: f18.
  9. ^ A Blue-Ribbon Packager of Movie Deals. Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times 20 April 1969: w1.
  10. ^ The Great Siege' Purchased. Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 13 July 1968: 18.
  11. ^ 'James Clavell: Filmdom's Do-It-Yourselfer' Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times 4 April 1969: h13.
  12. ^ Movie Call Sheet: Michael Caine Signs for Role. Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 17 June 1969: c15.
  13. ^ Hall, p. 223.
  14. ^ 12-Hour TV Movie: 'Shogun' to Be Filmed in Japan. Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times 2 May 1979: f1.
  15. ^ Movie Call Sheet: Plays to Be Filmed in 70s. Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 7 August 1969: c17.
  16. ^ "Unknown title". The Times. California. 4 March 1971. p. 15.
  17. ^ Caine, Michael (1990). Acting in film: an actor's take on movie making. Applause Theatre Book. p. 78.
  18. ^ Blessed, Brian (1995). Nothing's impossible. Isis. p. 16. ISBN 9781856951135.
  19. ^ Kleiner, Dick (8 October 1970). "$6 mill film stars Caine, Sharif". Lancaster New Era. p. 47.
  20. ^ Caine, Michael (2010). The elephant to Hollywood. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 152.
  21. ^ Harper, Sue (2011). British Film Culture in the 1970s: The Boundaries of Pleasure: The Boundaries of Pleasure. Edinburgh University Press. p. 269. ISBN 9780748654260.
  22. ^ Caine, Michael. What's It All About?. p. 269.
  23. ^ "Last Valley". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 38 (444). London: 77. January 1, 1971.
  24. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (20 January 1971). "Film Reviews: The Last Valley". Variety. p. 13.
  25. ^ Jenkins, Valerie (8 April 1971). "Films". Evening Standard. p. 24.
  26. ^ Fraser, George MacDonald (1988). The Hollywood History of the World. London: Michael Joseph Limited. pp. 107–108. ISBN 0-7181-2997-0.


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