A Great Period Film Well Made
A. Calabrese | NJ--United States | 11/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Last Valley, written and directed by the historical novel writer James Clavell. It is co-written by J. B. Pick, whose only other claim to fame is being the screenwriter of the Dean Martin, Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew. That aside this is a well made film with a great story. Filmed on location in the Tyrol area of Italy, these natural and scenic backdrops add historical credibility to this film, as well as providing breathtaking views.
The story is about a Captain, played brilliantly by Michael Caine, in charge of a group of multi-national mercineries during the 17th Century Thirty Years War. It is also about a wanderer, seeker, and a man escaping from the ravages of war, Vogel, played by Omar Sharif. There is also a large international supporting cast, who all do their part, most notable being Nigel Davenport as the Village elder, Per Oscarsson as the village priest, and Arthur O'Connell, most known for his part on the 70's TV show, Chico and the Man.
What started out as Religious Wars, mainly in what is present day Germany, and Alpine Valleys quickly turned into political jocking by petty German Princes, the Holy Roman Emporer, the Kings of France, Sweden, and Denmark. Added to all this war destruction were outbreaks of the plague. The film does a wonderful job with reconstructing this historical backdrop, even with minor details, like when the village priest asks one of the soldiers "Are you a Lutheran Protestant, a Calvin Protestant, or God forbid a heretical Anabaptist or Satan worshiper." While the Catholics and Protestants, throughout the 17th century, had a love-hate relationship, to put it mildly, the both agreed on their disdain for all things Anabaptist (present day Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites.)
Michael Caine, as the Captain, plays a freebooting leader of a religiously mixed group of mercenaries, who wreak havoc and destruction on any city, town, or village in their way. They have two rules, the Captain calls the shots, and they are not allowed to discuss religion. Omar Sharif plays Vogel, an educated wanderer, all too familiar with the ravages of this hypocritical war. He has been running from it for 20 years. Things are so bad, that even gold and silver, have lost their appeal. All people want is peace and the ability to farm their small part of the world. The film opens with an emaciated Vogel wandering into a small village trying to purchase food and shelter, not seconds later, rumbling down the moutains into the valley are the Captains soldiers, who burn, pillage, and rape with abandon, and some with a self-imposed blessing by God in their warrior pursuits. So, once again Vogel is forced to run, over mountains and valleys until he comes by a deserted, idyllic, little village in a naturally protected valley. But, his peace doesn't last long before the Captain arrives in the same place. They find the villagers hiding in the mountains. Vogel convinces the captain that this, little piece of paradise, would make a great place to winter over, and he being educated could act as the go-between soldier and peasants. I don't want to give more away, but against the backdrop of war, fanatical religion, lust, and a search for peace this story continues to unfold.
This is a great movie, running, 2 hours and 5 minutes. Michael Caine is brilliant as the pragmatic, unbelieving warrior. Omar Sharif, as a kind of naive 17th century, Parsifal, plays off of Caine's cynicism and hatred of all things religious and political. There is great inter-personal relationships in this film also.
This movie should be shown in all world history classes as it provides a great tool for what life was like during the Thirty Years War. 5 Stars Plus for this wonderful movie."
Caine's best film
alan royle | kardinya, western australia Australia | 09/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"'The Last Valley" sunk almost without a trace back in the 70's when it was first released. The only comments I recall from that time were from critics who mercilessly panned Michael Caine's accent. It's difficult to see just why the film failed. The script contains hardly a dull line, Clavell's direction is very good, John Barry's score is quite simply superb and the acting, with the exception of Arthur O'Connell and Christian Roberts in minor roles, is first class. Michael Caine dominates the film and gets some marvellous dialogue to utter. No wonder he rates his performance so highly and no wonder he's registered profound disappointment over the negative reviews. It just might be that because the script vigorously berates both Catholic and Protestant religions with equal disdain, the film found itself without a champion from either side to defend it. As for the score, I am at a loss to understand why it at least was not nominated for the Academy Awards that year. John Barry is usually terrific, but his score for "The Last Valley" is his best ever - including "Dances With Wolves". The performance of Per Oscarrson as the priest is memorable also. A wonderful film that sits comfortably in my top 10 of all time."
A Troubling Film For Troubled Times
G M. Stathis | cedar city, utah USA | 02/01/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A recent review of James Clavell's 1971 film, "The Last Valley" missed the point completely. Clavell's choice of Europe in the midst of one of the worst calamities to befall Western Civilization was done because this time and place, along with the Thirty Years War, was the crucible from which the modern world emerged...the modern territorial state, sovereignty, secularism, humanism, etc. You do not have to look very hard to find references to these issues in the film. But beyond that, there are universal isssues here. True, there is a reaction to the war in Vietnam, America's worst foreign policy calamity, as there are numerous reactions to other anxieties of that time, relgion, superstition, inhumanity and humanity, and, of course, war. A national news magazine, at the time, ran the headline " Is God Dead?" Richard M. Nixon was forming an "enemies list." Revelations of American atrocities in Southeast Asia were coming out. Of course this was a troubled time. Michael Caine and Omar Sharif portray composite chararacters...they are both cast in the role of "everyman." But each represents different but no less vital parts of humanity...the realist and the idealist...hope and the abandonment of hope. You must see the film, and then ponder which holds out for mankind. The film itself is well acted, especially by Caine (note the basis for his character in "The Eagle Has Landed) and Sharif, and directed. Clavell's script is profound at times. It is beautifully, and dramtically, photographed. And it is driven by a musical score that is one of John Barry's best achievements. The transfer to DVD is not as good as one might have hoped for. It is in the bargain category, afterall. It remains visually stunning, and the sound has been preserved quite well, for the most part. This was Clavell's project from top to bottom...director, producer, writer...and he deserves credit for what is good in this film, and of course, takes blame for aspects that have not weathered as well. His main themes are timeless, and universal, and this film still works."
WHOA! (4.5 Stars)
- Durrkk | Ohio/PA border USA | 09/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was at the store and spied this unknown 1971 flick amongst the DVDs; it looked like my kind of movie, especially with Michael Caine and Omar Sharif, so I naturally wondered why I had never heard of it. I made a mental note to later check out some reviews on Amazon and IMDb. The across-the-board high ratings piqued my interest, so I decided to pick it up the next time I saw it.
First of all, the opening credits sequence blew me away! Many reviewers mention John Barry's magnificent score as a powerful highlight and they're right. The credits sequence innovatingly depicts the theme of the Thirty Years War -- members of essentially the same religion at eachother's throats.
THE STORY: During the horrible Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-1648) a band of mercenaries led by the merciless Michael Caine (the Captain) and a drifter attempting to flee the horrors of the war discover a hidden vale -- the last valley untouched by the war. The drifter talks the Captain into wintering in the peaceful valley rather than pillaging it and killing/raping the villagers. (This setup itself is a strong hint that this is no ordinary war flick).
WHAT WORKS: Parts of the film have a dreamy, surreal atmosphere, particularly the beginning and ending; this is reminiscent of the incomparable "Apocalypse Now." Michael Caine is outstanding as the Captain; he would perform a similar role in the underrated "The Eagle Has Landed" in 1977 (a stunning performance); the captain's answer to everything in the past was to simply kill, but now, in the valley, he has found peace and love. Omar Sharif also perfectly depicts the disillusioned drifter, his reaction to the horrors of war has always been to run, but in the valley he also finds peace and love, and even a family.
The depth and ultra-seriousness of the story, including the dialogue of the characters touching on issues of war, loss, God, religion, ignorance, superstitions, love, hope, loyalty, duty, etc. truly separate this pic from an ordinary adventure yarn.
It's also very interesting to observe how people lived in a regular hamlet 400 years ago in Europe. Back then it was not unusual for people to live their entire lives within 20 miles or so from where they were born. Such people would likely be under-educated, superstitious, innocent, ignorant and narrow-minded and the film realistically portrays this.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: There are quite a few parts of the film that aren't pulled off very well. Some of the dramatic stagings and dialogue come off awkward here and there; they simply don't ring true. These aspects of the film needed more fine-tuning and this explains why critics originally panned the movie and why it fell into obscurity for thirty years (a fitting curse for being the only movie to ever address the Thirty Years War, huh?).
FINAL ANALYSIS: Despite the obvious flaws the film gets a huge 'A' for effort in my book. The originality of the story and its inherent profundities, not to mention the fine cast, performances and surreal aspects, lift this film above a simple adventure yarn. It's enlightening, educational and thought-provoking. If you enjoy films like "Apocalypse Now" and "Runaway Train," films that boldly attempt to go far deeper than the run-of-the-mill action/adventure flick, then be sure to pick up "The Last Valley." You won't be disappointed.
THE DVD is strictly bare bones; there's not even a trailer. I didn't like the fact that I could hardly make out the credits, but the picture quality of the rest of the film is fine. I personally don't buy DVDs for extras, so I'm not disappointed.