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The Last Valley
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From acclaimed writer James Clavell (Shogun) comes this stirring war epic starring OscarÂ(r) winner* Michael Caine as a soldier who knows nothing but battle until he rediscovers the possibility of love. Co-starring Omar Sharif, this powerful film is both a magnificent spectacle and an intensely personal story of love, friendship and loss. The Thirty Years' War rages through 17th-century Germany, and a fierce captain (Caine) lays waste to any village his army encounters. But when he arrives in an undisturbed valley where he meets a beautiful peasant girl, long-dead memories of peace and happiness are reawakened. Inevitably, though, the war is closing in. Will he heed its call or fight for the new life he has found? *Supporting Actor: The Cider House Rules (1999); Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
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Even so the DVD transfer is a low bit rate, and the presentation suffers for it. A new transfer with the original edit on blu-ray would be welcome. If I had a critique of the film itself, it's that there aren't enough action sequences. I think one more might have helped bolster the film a bit more, but that's just me. Otherwise, as it stands now, it's outstanding, and deserves a better preservation on optical media.
Hopefully a new transfer will come in time.
'The Last Valley' is just that...the last valley in Germany not yet utterly devastated by war. All that is about to change when 'The Captain's' [Michael Caine's] gang of mercenary marauders chances on the hapless populace. The war has gone on so long that Caine is not only known as only 'The Captain' but he may have actually forgotten his original name. Like all of his men, he is brutal, but unlike the rest of them, he is intelligent. The Burgomeister [Omar Shariff] of the town/valley knows that his people are doomed so he makes a Faustian bargain with the 'Captain'. "Don't devastate the Valley. Over-Winter, here, and protect it. We, the people of this valley will provide for your men...food, women, shelter.
One of 'The Captain's' men protests that such a deal is against military/religious/political precedent. 'The Captain' answers him by thrusting his picklehaubed, pointed helmet into his guts. 'The Captain' has made his decision. This film, which is a 'small' film and never got nearly the credit it deserved, is a genuine classic. Perhaps the most memorable line of the movie is uttered by the Captain when asked about his belief in witchcraft. His reply is one of harrowing belief and profound cynicism. A wonderful film.
Ron Braithwaite, author of novels on the Spanish Conquest of Mexico...'Skull Rack' and 'Hummingbird God.'
And it may seem overwrought. The director took at least some visual motifs from Breughel and other dark artists of the period. Others have told me this last valley seemed almost a surreal vision of Alpine heaven, an unrealistic "Sound of Music" setting. Perhaps that was the point, that this village would represent a vision, a haven from the hellpit that Europe had become by 1640. It's almost a fantasy, a fever dream. In truth there may have been no such haven in that war; probably every village, town and city in Germany or Bohemia were sacked at least once, and the population of Germany fell by anywhere from a fifth to a third.
Perhaps Omar Sharif's character is a metaphor, as is the Captain -- as much as the carnival fool and the knight in "Seventh Seal", although the Sharif and Caine characters are far more haunted. (Indeed, the icy Captain is still guilt-ridden merely for having been present at the sack of Magdeburg, and the burning of the city's people). Hoffman, the superstitious peasant (played, competently enough, by Arthur O'Connell) and Gruber as the cagey, cunning village chief, are also parable characters of all the people of this village and those times. As a refraction of those terrible years, the film works.
The cinematography, the staging, the score, the script are all first-rate. The transfer, given the age of the film, is good. If this film is in stock, get it: it's worth a place in your DVD library.
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Hot Toasty Rag, November 22, 2017
The Last Valley refers to a peaceful mountain village that has managed to remain undisturbed by the...Read more