Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Last Valley (1971)

There hasn't been many English language films about the 30 years war but I reckon this is one that comes to mind to me at least. It's not a really historically accurate film from a costume point of view but it has its good points :) I suppose nowadays its most famous for its score by John Barry. Although lengthy the text alongside of this video says it all -
Rotten tomatoes reviews here
The Last Valley (1971) is a 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 to live in peace for a time.
Caine's character, known only as 'The Captain,' leads a band of ruthless Mercenaries. His men pillage the countryside, looting freely when not engaged in actual military work. Sharif, as 'Vogel' (German for 'Bird'), 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 onto an idyllic mountain vale, seemingly untouched by war.
The Captain's small band are not far behind, and they too are impressed by the valley and its inhabitants, but for darker reasons. Outgunning the locals by a wide margin, he decides that his men will rest here for the winter, and wait for political events outside to turn in their favor. He forces the locals to comply, especially their headman 'Gruber' (Nigel Davenport). The local Catholic Priest ('Per Oscarsson') is livid that a number of Protestants (and nihilistic Atheists for that matter) are amongst the Mercenaries, 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 irrelevant.
At first, the locals accept their fate. Vogel agrees to act as intermediary, using his cunning to act as judge in matters of dispute between the Mercenaries and local people. As long as food, shelter, and a small number of comfort women are provided, the Mercenaries leave the locals alone. But as winter fades, it becomes obvious that the Mercenaries will have to leave. A man exiled from the group manages to lead a rival Mercenary band to the valley, which is no longer snowed-in. After a short, but fierce, battle in which the interlopers are destroyed, The Captain gets word that a major military campaign in the Upper Rhineland is happening. Since his men are soldiers of fortune, he decides this is the time to leave the valley and seek combat again.
John Barry had recently won the Academy Award for the eerie, powerful score for 'The Lion in Winter', and had already worked with director James Clavell on 'King Rat', he was hired to provide a score for the heavily dramatic tale of 'The Last Valley'.

The film was mostly shot in Tyrol, Austria (Trins and Gschnitz and the Gschnitztal Valley) and was based on the novel by J.B. Pick.

The film flopped on release, often cited as an allegory for the Vietnam War - reportedly losing $7m.

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