The Last Valley (1971)



Director:   James Clavell.

Starring:  Michael Caine (The Captain), Omar Sharif (Vogel), Florinda Bolkan (Erica), Nigel Davenport (Gruber), Per Oscarsson (Father Sebastian), Arthur O'Connell (Hoffman), Madeleine Hinde (Inge), Yorgo Voyagis (Pirelli), Miguel Alejandro (Julio), Christian Roberts (Andreas), Brian Blessed (Korski), Ian Hogg (Graf), Michael Gothard (Hansen), George Innes (Vornez).

  1641, the twenty-third year of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648).

A teacher, Vogel (Omar Sharif), has his whole family exterminated.  Now he wanders around and is thought by many to be a beggar.  He has an encounter with a group of ruthless mercenaries heading for an innocent village.  Will the former teacher intervene or continue on his way? 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

This is an o.k. movie.  1618.  The Thirty Years' War started as a religious war between Catholics and Protestants.  But, in a relentless pursuit of power, princes of both faiths change sides to suite their own interests. 

Vogel was a teacher at the University of Heidelberg, but the war has cost him his family and his occupation.  He comes to a village in a valley in an attempt to get some food, but they only tell him to leave.  As he is negotiating with them, a group of mercenaries descend on the village and engage in rape, murder and pillage.  Vogel runs up the hill out of the valley, only to find more carnage.  There on the ridge are many victims of the plague.  Vogel continues on until he finds a completely different valley, one that it the very picture of a peaceful community.  But where are the peasants? 

Vogel sleeps in the hay loft of one of the barns until he is rudely awakened by the mercenaries he had run into the previous day.  The Captain of the outfit demands that Vogel tell him where the peasants have gone.  He also threatens to loot and destroy the village.  But Vogel convinces the Captain that he should winter in the village, rather than destroy it. 

The mercenaries wait until the peasants return and then surprise them.  The Captain negotiates with the head man of the village, Gruber, to share control of the village.  The soldiers will provide protection for the village in return for room and board and some women.  Vogel is chosen to be the judge in the village. 

Gruber and the Captain engage in a dice game to see which man will have the beautiful Erica.  Erica does a bit of cheating so that the Captain wins. 

The Captain talks with Vogel about some of the horrors he has seen.  He says that "We killed God at Magdeburg" when they killed from 20 to 30 thousand men, women and children.  Vogel is well aware of what happened at Magdeburg since he lost his entire family there some twelve years earlier. 

One of the meanest mercenaries, Hansen, tries to rape villager Inge Hoffman, but Vogel saves her.  A little later, Hansen and three accomplices try to murder the Captain and take over.  Their attempted coup fails and Hansen and company have to make a quick escape from the village.  Hansen returns with thirty-two men.  But the Captain and the villagers are ready for them.  Hansen himself is kill at a fight at the local bridge.

Mathias arrives.  He brings news of the outside world and the war.  The Imperialists under Gen. Worth are north of the Rhine River, while the Protestants under Prince Bernard of Saxe-Weimar are to the south of the river.  The small village is between the two forces.  Bernard must get to the Rhine if he is to get the French subsidies promised by Cardinal Richelieu of France.  He will cross at Rheinfelden.  The Captain decides that he and his men will join Prince Bernard.  When some people ask him why, he says that in one sense it doesn't really matter since all sides in the conflict are rotten.  He adds that there is no God.  He later mentions that he see himself as a killer beast with no friends and no country. 

The Captain tells Vogel to remain behind in the village along with a few of the soldiers that will stay with him.   

Vogel tells Gruber that his villagers should become soldiers with the training provided by a few of the remaining mercenaries in the village.  Gruber does not really like the idea and Vogel knows that the village is too small for the both of them.  He makes his plans to leave the village.  Inge Hoffman wants to go with him since she says she loves Vogel, but he does not want her to accompany him. 

Erica is tortured and then burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft.  (The soldier Geddes is so upset at this that he forces the village priest into the fire to burn him alive.) Meanwhile the Captain and his men are engaged in a lot of fighting in which he loses most of his men and is himself wounded. 

Gruber sets up an ambush for the returning Captain and Vogel.  Vogel tries to warn the Captain but it is too late, they are surrounded.  The Captain tells Vogel that Prince Bernard won, but that he himself and his men had lost.  He then dies of his battle wounds without any intervention from the villagers.  Vogel leaves telling Inge to remain behind with Andreas, who loves her.


The movie presents a conflict between the military and the politicians and of both against a higher code of ethics (represented by the teacher Vogel).  In the village the big politician, Gruber, backed by the clergy, the local priest, wins out in the end.  The military man, the Captain, dies from his battle wounds.  And philosophy and ethics, represented by Vogel, has to get out of town in order not to be totally destroyed.

Religion is not at fault here.  Rather religion is being used by both sides to justify their own selfish-interests and rally their forces.  That's why, for instance, Catholic France feels o.k. with supporting the Protestant forces.  Their self-interests coincided and overrode any interest in a sense of religious integrity.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.




Historical Background:


1526  --  Diet of Speyer. 

1555  -- the Peace of Augsburg confirmed the result of the 1526 Diet of Speyer.  It ended the violence between the Lutherans and the Catholics in Germany.

second half of the 16th century  --  the Peace of Augsburg started to unravel. 

1606  --  in the German free city of Donauwrth, the Lutheran majority barred the Catholics from holding a procession, causing a violent riot. Duke Maximilian of Bavaria (15731651) intervened on behalf of the Catholics.

1608  --  feeling threatened by the Catholic intervention, the Protestant Calvinists banded together in the Leauge of Evangelical Union created under the leadership of the Palatine elector Frederick IV (15831610). This made Spain mad because Frederick IV controlled the Rhenish Palatinate, one of the very states along the Rhine River that Spain wanted to acquire.

1609  --  the Catholics banded together in the Catholic League under the leadership of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria.

1619  --  Matthias, both Holy Roman Emperor and the King of Bohemia, died without descendents. So his cousin Ferdinand became King of Bohemia and Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor.  The problem was that Ferdinand II wanted to restore Catholicism and this did not set well with Protestant Hussite Bohemia.

Bohemia revolted against Ferdinand II and this launched the Thirty Years' War.

Phase I:  the Bohemian Revolt, 1618-1625.


Phase II:  Danish intervention, 1625-1629.


Phase III:  Swedish intervention, 1630-1635.

1630  --  Ferdinand II dismissed General Wallenstein.

King Gustavus II Adolphus of Protestant Sweden came to the aid of Protestant Germany. Adolphus was something of a military genius and he greatly improved the military prospects of the Protestant Forces.  Catholic France, under Cardinal Richelieu, Chief Minister of King Louis XIII, provided financial aid to Adolphus.  From 1630-1634, the Protestant took back much of the land they had previously lost.

1631  -- at the Battle of Breitenfeld, Adolphus' forces defeated the Catholic League led by General Tilly.

1632  --  General Tilly killed in battle.  So Ferdinand II had to turn to Wallenstein. 

1632  --  at the Battle of Ltzen, Wallenstein was defeated by Gustavus Adolphus, but Gustavus Adolphus was killed. The death of the great Swedish leader, turn the fortunes of the Protestants.

1633  --  Ferdinand II's distrust of Wallenstein flared up again and he wanted him arrested.

1634  --  One of Wallenstein's soldiers, Captain Devereux, killed Wallenstein when he attempted to contact the Swedes at Chebe.

1634  --  the Protestant forces were defeated at the First Battle of Nrdlingen.

1635  --  the Peace of Prague between the Catholics and Protestants ended the Swedish Period. 


Phase IV:  Swedish-French intervention, 1636-1648.

The Peace of Prague did not last because France was unhappy with it.  France felt that the Habsburg Empire had been given too much power and they would not stand for this.  Catholic France entered the war on the side of the Protestants.  In retaliation, Spain invaded southern France.

1636  -- the Imperial general Johannvon Werth and Spanish commander Cardinal Ferdinand Habsburg ravaged the French provinces of Champagne and Burgundy and even threatened Paris.

1642  --  Cardinal Richelieu died.

1643  --  Louis XIII died.  His five-year-old son became Louis XIV.  His chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, began to work for peace.

1648  --  the Swedes and the French defeated the Imperial army at the Battle of Zusmarshausen and Lens, which left only the Imperial territories of Austria safely in Habsburg hands.

1648  --  the Peace of Westphalia ended the war. 


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)