“The Captain” (Michael Caine) leads a band of mercenaries who fight for the highest bidder regardless of religion during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). His soldiers pillage the countryside, rape and loot when not fighting. Vogel (Omar Sharif) is a former teacher trying to survive the slaughter of civilians occurring throughout south-central Germany. Vogel runs from The Captain’s forces, but eventually stumbles upon an idyllic mountain vale, untouched by war. The Captain and his small band are not far behind. Eventually The Captain and his men catches up with Vogel. 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. 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 destroying the village and leaving a few men as guards…

“The Last Valley” (1971), directed by James Clavell (behind “Shogun” and “Taipan”), is an historical drama set during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). 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. 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.” “The Last Valley” is the only film I can think of that deals with the Thirty Years War. 17th century Europe was the century of the great religious conflicts between Catholic and the many Protestant faiths. The Catholic Hapsburg Holy Roman Empire was gradually losing its grip on more and more of the various little domains that made up their empire. More rulers and the populations of those small kingdoms were converting to either Lutheranism or Calvinism. The rest of Europe was concerned as to who would come out on top and from 1617 when the conflict first started, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, France, Spain etc got involved in one way or another. Religion was the key factor, but hardly the only one.

“The Last Valley” is a movie that has missed my radar and I´m truly glad that I bought it with my gut feeling. This is great epic story with a foundation in the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War whom Sweden were involved in as well. I love the settings, the environments, the clothes and the general vibe. The acting is truly intense and engaging (specifically from Caine and the swede Oscarsson) and I loved for example The Captain´s final confrontation with the Priest played by Oscarsson (truly evil in this role). That´s Caine at his best. The lovely Florinda Bolkan as Erica adds mysticism/female beauty and it was nice to see a young Brian Blessed as Korski. It´s gritty, it´s bloody, it´s dramatic, it has deep religious quarrels and it´s really about true survival in a time of war and the plague. There´s so much you can relate to modern times and what we see in this part of the world today. “The Last Valley” is a dialogue driven movie and the drama /action we get to see is strong and violent. To me it has a perfect mix of the two. I can´t understand that this ended up as a flop as it´s a fine piece of film in my eyes. (4 out of 5)

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