The Last Valley
By Velvet Belle Tree
The Last Valley is probably the best movie you’ve never seen or most likely never even heard of. I, myself, never heard of it until very recently from a friend and was able to watch it on DVD. This is a beautiful movie that tore my heart out.
The Last Valley was made in 1971 and stars Michael Caine and Omar Sharif. The screenplay was written by James Clavell based on a novel by J.B. Pick. It was also directed by James Clavell.
The story takes place towards the end of the Thirty Years War. The prologue explains that the Thirty Years raged in Europe from 1618 to 1648. It started as a war between Catholics and Protestants, but as time went on, the various factions changed sides as was expedient, so that after a while it was no longer a strictly religious war.
The two main characters are Vogel (Omar Sharif) and a man known only as The Captain (Michael Caine). Vogel is seen at the beginning as a desperate, haunted man, running from village to village as each one is overrun by soldiers, the village destroyed, the inhabitants raped and murdered. Finally, he comes to a pristine, secluded valley untouched by the war with the inhabitants in hiding. All too soon, a troop of mercenaries arrive.
Vogel tries to convince the Captain not to plunder and destroy the valley; that the valley would be a perfect place to winter over. Never does he ask what side the Captain is on. He says that the men probably do not care which side they fight on. “What about those who do?” asks the Captain. “Get rid of them,” is the reply. Without skipping a beat, the Captain plunges the spike of his helmet into his lieutenant standing with them. Of course, Vogel, the man of words, did not expect the Captain, the man of action, to do that.
The mercenaries settle in, taking over the valley. The Captain appropriates several women for the men. For himself, he wants Erika, the wife of Gruber, the head man of the village. She goes with him, pretending to be won at the toss of the dice. It is not clear if she goes because she wants him or because she feels he will be a better protector.
Vogel physically collapses and is taken in by one of the families. He protects the young daughter of the family, Inga, and she eventually falls in love with him. It is hard to say if he reciprocates that love. All his family, including wife and children, have been killed by the war. Perhaps what he feels is a deep, tender concern, for she is around the age that his daughter would be.
The Captain, too, has lost his wife and family in the war. All he knows is war. Yet, when Erika falls in love with him, he seems to return that love to the extent that he is able.
Spring comes, and news of the outside world comes to the valley.
The Captain decides his mercenaries should join the fight on one of the sides. Erika begs him to allow her to go with him, a common thing for women to do in those days. He does not allow that, saying that no one is safe with him; his wife and children weren’t.
After he leaves, the village priest catches Erika praying to Satan. What evil thing is she praying for? Merely that the man she loves be kept safe. The priest takes her and tortures her in preparation for burning alive. The Captain wasn’t there to protect her, Gruber wouldn’t protect her and Vogel is powerless to protect her. Vogel does the only thing he can to help her. With great tenderness, he gently and clandestinely stabs her so she would not be burned alive. One of the mercenaries, left behind to guard the village, goes berserk and pushes the priest into the fire.
We then see the battle. There is a young boy attached to one of the mercenaries, who Vogel has discerned is not his son. He is distraught and terrified witnessing the men he knows being killed or maimed.
The Captain returns to the village with the few men left alive, near death himself. He sees Inga and thinks she is Erika. Wishing to spare him the anguish of Erica’s death, Vogel nods to Inga, and she allows the Captain to think he is saying his farewells to Erika.
Parents, I urge you to see this movie with your older teenage children. Let them see the horror and devastation of senseless war. Let them see the monstrous cruelty of religious fanaticism and intolerance.