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4.1 out of 5 stars
The Last Valley
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117 of 121 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
I saw this movie when it was first released in the early '70s and at that time I thought it was one of the best movies ever made. For some reason, though, not only did it bomb, but in those pre-video days it fell into total obscurity. I got to see it one more time at a film festival in 1976. Then a couple of years ago I called into a talk show, where the person who had run the festival was being interviewed, and he told me it was probably lost for all time. You can imagine how thrilled I was when I found it for sale at the video store. I watched this the other night with my family, and it was everything I remembered it to be. It has wonderful character development; phenomenal acting; great cinematography; and a haunting soundtrack that stuck with me for the nearly 30 years between viewings. What more can I say, except buy it, and view it over and over.
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65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
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.
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59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2000
Format: DVD
'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.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2004
Format: DVD
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 check out some reviews on the internet. The across-the-board high ratings piqued my interest, so I decided to pick it up the next time I saw it.

The first thing that made a favorable impression was the outstanding opening credits sequence. Many reviewers mention John Barry's magnificent score as a highlight and they're right. This credits sequence innovatingly depicts the theme of the Thirty Years War -- members of essentially the same religion at each other'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 raping/killing the villagers. (This setup itself is a 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, a character so hardened by the horrors of war that he no longer even has a name, he's just "The Captain." Caine would perform a similar role in the underrated "The Eagle Has Landed" in 1977, a stunning performance. The Captain's answer to everything was to simply kill, but now, in the valley, he has found peace and the warmth of love. Omar Sharif also perfectly depicts the disillusioned drifter, Vogel, his reaction to the horrors of war has always been to run, but in the valley he also finds peace and love, and even -- maybe -- 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, redemption, etc. truly separate this pic from an ordinary war-adventure yarn.

It's also very interesting to observe how people lived in a regular hamlet 400 years ago in backwoods Europe. It was not unusual for people back then in such circumstances to live their entire lives within 10 miles or so from where they were born. Such people would likely be under-educated, superstitious, innocent, ignorant and narrow-minded all at the same time, and the film realistically portrays this.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: There are parts of the film that aren't pulled off very well. Some of the dramatic stagings and dialogue come off awkward here and there. These aspects perhaps 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, eh?).

Some have criticized the film for being anti-church or even anti-God. Actually the film's about the pursuit of God, truth, love and happiness in the face of the ultimate horror -- war. And not just any war, a war that lasted three decades wherein innocent civilians -- men, women, children & family members -- were needlessly slaughtered. The repugnance and terror of war caused The Captain to become a ruthless atheist, as he declares in one potent scene, and "tore the heart out of" Vogel, as revealed in another. But the last valley untouched by the neverending conflict has given them both hope again.

***SPOILER ALERT***

Originally The Captain was going to slay Vogel as soon as he met him, but after wintering in the valley he sets Vogel up as the leader while he leaves to attend to the business of war. He obviously had a change of heart concerning Vogel. In any event, he returns to the vale, wounded, his only sanctuary from the evils of battle and plague. His dying words to Vogel are: "Vogel, if you find God tell him we created..." He was no longer an atheist in the strictest sense; he now even hoped their was a Creator and WANTED Vogel to find truth, love & happiness. But it was too late for him. Or maybe not?

***END SPOILER***

FINAL ANALYSIS: Despite the obvious flaws the film gets a huge 'A' for effort in my book. "The Last Valley" is a special picture. It successfully creates a small world of people some 400 years ago in a secluded vale in the paradisical wilderness of the Alps. A world you can get lost in for 2 hours. The originality of the story and its inherent profundities, not to mention the fine cast, performances and surreal aspects, lift the film above a simple adventure yarn. It's unorthodox, enlightening, thought-provoking and ultimately moving. 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 check out "The Last Valley." You won't be disappointed. In addition, it's a film you'll continue to glean from in future viewings. But, since this is a dialogue-driven picture, be sure to use the subtitles so you can understand the heavily accented dialogue. You'll get much more out of it.

GRADE: A-
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2001
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
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.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
Given the current state of the world, this wonderful, neglected film is all too relevant. A thoughtful, penetrating depiction of the madness & horror that are unleashed by religious fanaticism & unrestrained greed, this story is all too sadly familiar. Self-righteousness, invincible ignorance, and blind ideology trump reason once again. If it commented on Vietnam at the time of its release, it comments with equal precision on the newest quagmire of Iraq & the fundamentalist mindset of every rigid stripe.

Both Caine & Sharif give superb performances, with Caine's cold but haunted Captain lingering in the memory. It's telling that even in the Eden of the valley, the serpent rears its head in the form of religious intolerance. When Sharif & his new love leave the valley, it's with the awareness that there is no truly safe place in a world governed by such madness. The struggle to create a sane world continues. Highly recommended!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVD
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 [...]-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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2002
Format: DVD
I am glad to see that most of the reviews posted here are giving this film the credit it deserves. This film works on so many levels it is difficult to discuss them all. While the DVD recording isn't a restoration (which it should be), the film is still quite beautiful visually and musically (wonderful score by John Barry). The script is solid in its dealings with religious, political and military tensions. The historical setting is fabulous and quite under-utilized by Hollywood. DreamWorks needs to take a look at this time period and produce a "Saving Private Ryan" calibre film on the topic. Caine gives one of his best performances with a serious, icy cold skill, but still has you liking him as a character (in spite of himself). I have been casually looking for this film on VHS for 15 years. Boy was it worth the wait. Final word: a brutal, thoughtful, interesting and dreamy film. Enjoy.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2005
Format: DVD
During the Vietnam War I was a draftee who opted for a 4-year enlistment in the Air Force. I ended-up on a microwave site at the Brenner Pass on the frontier between Italy and Austria in 1972, where we received a steady diet of "B" movies for our projector, among those that made the greatest impression was "The Last Valley".

I cannot overestimate its impact on this conscripted soldier in the middle of a senseless war, living on the actual frontier of the Thirty Years War! The scenery in the movie was scenery I could look down on from that mountaintop every day, the senselessness and futility of the Thirty Years War was all-too-familiar to those of us sucked-into the VietNam debacle as conscripts, my own ancestors and the the people I encountered in the streets of the Alpine villages were the very people portrayed facing the horrors of war and plague...

Though I am sure this is not a "5-Star" movie based on the criteria a Movie Critic would apply, I can tell you it is a powerful story, convincingly presented, that made a 5-star impact on one lonesome GI in the heart of Europe in 1972.

Maybe in a different time and place present-day viewers will find it less compelling, but I have never forgotten it over the 33 years since I first saw it!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
It may seem strange to see British actor Michael Caine and Egyptian actor Omar Sharrif play 17th Century Germans. But they do a stand out job of doing so. The Last Valley is a heart breaking story of the last, unmolested valley in Central Europe, ravaged by the 30 Years War, and how it affects a ruthless mercenary (Caine) and a gentle scholar (Sharrif.)
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