People in a small German village in the last valley to remain untouched by the devastating Thirty Years' War try to exist in peace with a group of soldiers occupying the valley. Written by
The film's opening prologue states: "The Thirty Years War began in 1618. It started as a religious war - Catholics against Protestants. But in their relentless pursuit of power, princes of both faiths changed sides as it suited them and in the name of religion butchered Europe". See more »
During the attack in the forest above the valley, a man with an arm injury is being comforted by a fellow soldier. The wounded man is lying against a rock but when an enemy shoots at him in the next frame he is standing as is his friend who was also leaning against the rock in the previous frame. See more »
Filmed under the incredibly unwieldy and oh-so-Sixties title Somewhere in the Mountains There is a Last Valley and hindered by financing problems, The Last Valley marked the end of screenwriter James Clavell's directorial career and the beginning of the end of the thinking man's epic genre. Which is a great pity, because this almost completely forgotten Shangri-La tale set during the Thirty Years War, the last of the great European religious wars, deserves to be much better known despite the potentially disastrous miscasting of the two leads. Omar Sharif is no more anyone's ideal casting as a 17th Century German schoolteacher trying to talk his way out of a premature death than Michael Caine is anyone's idea of a German mercenary captain, yet despite a few moments unease at Caine's aksent (a dry run for the one he used in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), within moments you realise that against all odds both actors are delivering surprisingly sincere and well-judged performances.
From the main title animation that sees a cross split into two sword-wielding rival soldiers, it's not always a pretty picture, making few bones about the dirt, ugliness and squalor of the times, with Sharif's schoolteacher wandering from village massacre to plague pits before literally stumbling upon an unspoilt and unlooted valley. Unfortunately he stumbles across it at the same time as Caine's butt-ugly ragtag band of mercenaries, cutthroats, murderers, rapists, Papists, Protestants and atheists pillaging the countryside for supplies. Convincing them to spend the Winter there in comfort rather than see the valley's food gone in days if they share it among their army, he finds himself cast as an uneasy go-between trying to improvise and keep the fragile peace between the mercenaries and the villagers. But for all its beauty, the valley is no idyllic haven but just as riven with suspicion, prejudice and duplicity as the outside world as the two sides engage in a constant subtle power struggle: ultimately it is not the valley that is destroyed by the soldiers but the soldiers who are destroyed by the valley as they are reminded of the people they almost were. Even Sharif's intermediary has more to fear from the villagers than the soldiers.
A huge box-office flop in 1970 (in the States it quickly ended up as a second feature), it's far from a conventional epic. There are only a couple of action scenes, and only one of them qualifies as spectacular, while its characters are not major figures but human driftwood caught up in the wake of greater events and gradually rejecting the accepted religious and moral beliefs of their time. Instead of a triumphant tone, it's a melancholy picture about people trying to survive in the worst of all possible worlds, where moments of beauty are merely reminders of how much has been lost in the past rather than what could be in the future. John Barry's superb score, possibly his best ever, reflects this beautifully, alternating the savagery he displayed in his earlier The Lion in Winter with an incredibly beautiful theme for the valley. It's not a film for all tastes, but there's a melancholy magic there willing to look for it.
It's a shame that none of the extras-free DVD versions available do justice to the 65mm photography (though the sadly extras-free Region 1 MGM and Anchor Bay releases are at least widescreen, unlike the clumsily cropped UK release), but it's still a film that deserves to be sought out in its original widescreen ratio.
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