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The Last Valley
A Vintage Film Set Amidst a Forgotten War
© 2013 James LaFond
James Clavell’s
The Last Valley
MGM DVD, 1971, 126 minutes
I first saw this film on late night UHF TV in 1979. I have purchased it twice since. This is my favorite movie. I have only rated it as a four-star film because people of my parent’s generation find the level of realism hard to stomach, and people of my sons’ generation have been too conditioned to the pace of comic-book based movies to be able to sit still for something paced like a novel.
James Clavell wrote a number of historical novels; including Shogun, which became the first big TV miniseries. He also did a series of novels on China that were adapted as role playing games in the 1980s. The lead actor is Michael Caine who gives a great performance. The supporting actor is Omar Sharif, the only non-European actor that I remember getting much film time when I was a kid. Back then you even had white guys playing American Indians.
The Last Valley is set in Germany during the Thirty Years War. That war is thought by some historians to actually be the root cause for the rise of the militant Prussian led Germany 300 years later, and thus a precursor to the nightmare known as World War II. The Thirty Years War was the conflict that convinced European heads of state that they needed standing professional armies, as opposed to relying on mercenaries. The temporary, though nominally loyal, feudal army of the Middle Ages had given way by this time to mercenary forces which would be disbanded by their employers and then rampage across the small principalities and municipalities of Germany, taking what they needed.
After twenty years of rape and pillage and the utter denuding of the patchwork of small states that was then Germany, a fierce mercenary captain and his band of outriders come across the only un-pillaged valley. At the same time a travelling teacher seeks refuge in the same valley and becomes a peace-broker between the employees and victims of this brutal religious war.
The Last Valley is the only film I know of set in what is possibly the most formative struggle in European history, a period of time when the ancestors of modern Americans were fleeing across the Atlantic to escape the carnage and persecution of holy war. In this film Michael Cain’s brutalized character makes an eloquent case, in a fleeting moment of contemplation, for deicide [the murder of God], a concept rarely tread on in literature or film. We’ve all been taught to understand why Jews who survived World War II would want to leave Europe. The Last Valley makes it pretty clear why our ancestors fled to North America, or were sold into slavery to those who did. If you are under forty think of it as a documentary.
After viewing the film via the YouTube link below I came away even more impressed with Michael Caine's performance. The long credit introduction was a feature of early 1970s films.
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