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The Last Valley: Screencaps

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Jan. 28th, 1971 | 12:00 pm

This film came out in 1971, and is set during the Thirty Years War. It looks at what people are prepared to put up with, what compromises they will, and what they are prepared to do, to preserve what they can of their way of life.

The film stars Omar Sharif as Vogel, and Michael Caine as a man known only as “The Captain.” This Captain heads a ruthless troop of mercenaries, of which Hansen is a member.

Near the beginning, we see this group looting a poor and muddy village of what little it has, and terrorising the occupants.

Hansen enthusiastically kills a peasant using a pitchfork, and is about to slaughter an ox with his axe.

This band of soldiers-for-hire offers its services to the highest bidder or to whichever side is winning, during a complex mish-mash of wars that rages throughout Europe, causing devastation to the populace, often with religion as the reason or the excuse.

But the troop happens upon a little piece of heaven – a valley seemingly untouched by the ravages of war or the plague, beautiful, fertile and peaceful.

They would have looted this valley, raped the women and killed the men, as a matter of course, but for another stranger who takes it upon himself to prevent this wholesale destruction. Vogel, a new arrival in the valley himself, persuades The Captain to billet his troops in the valley instead of destroying it, and to stay there all winter, while the rest of Europe starves and tears itself apart.

The Captain is taken with the idea, but faces immediate opposition from one of his deputies – Korski, played by Brian Blessed – whom he kills without a second thought, on Vogel’s recommendation.

Here we see The Captain kill Kosrki, while Vogel looks on.

Hansen asks what has happened to Korski, and is told he is on watch. He doesn’t believe it, but when he sees another
of Korski’s supporters killed, he wisely shuts up. He may not like the fact that Korski has been executed, but he
doesn’t care enough to protest, and risk his own life.

But then religion rears its head; one of the mercenaries, Eskesen, (played by Jack Shepherd), who is a Protestant,
demands that they destroy the village church, as they do every church they come across. He says the Catholic church
“stinks of Satan.”

The church is something Hansen does rush to defend, axe in hand, calling Eskesen a heretic; another of the soldiers strikes
the Protestant down from behind.

Just this once The Captain weighs in on Hansen’s side; this church must be the exception, because they want to
keep the villagers quiescent. He determines that the Eskesen must die.

Vogel steps forward and asks that he be spared, and Hansen, despite the fact that Eskesen was attacking him, agrees
with Vogel: “Yes, give him quarter.”

But this random act of mercy by Hansen – one of very few in this film – is fruitless; The Captain kills Eskesen anyway. He wants no religious quarrels among his men, but Hansen as a dangerous rival for leadership; The Captain can’t afford to let him have any say over who lives, and who dies.

Vogel then goes to work persuading the village leader, Gruber (Nigel Davenport), of the wisdom of putting up with a bunch of soldiers staying there and living off the locals, in exchange for their lives, and the security of their property and their women.

Well, some of them at least.

A dirty deal is struck, whereby Gruber will purchase Indulgences from the local priest, Father Sebastian (Per Oscarsson) for 6 women from the village, guaranteeing them forgiveness for all past and future sins, providing that they offer themselves to the mercenaries, for sex.

Now Hansen is in trouble. He can’t, or won’t adapt. “We take what we want and to hell with the rest.” It’s what they’ve been doing for years, and he doesn’t like the new regime.

The Captain threatens to slit his tongue if he argues with him again.

The other women are to be off-limits, and the punishment for rape of any apart from those six women is public castration.

Hansen carries on complaining in private. He says he’s sorry he let Korski die, and that he, Hansen, is a better soldier
than The Captain. But none of the others seem interested in the hint of mutiny.

Vogel learns that the father of the family with whom he has been staying has offered his own daughter, Inge (Madeleine Hinde) to be sent to the soldiers for sex. Inge looked after Vogel when he was ill, and Vogel can’t understand how a father could do such a thing. He goes to The Captain and begs him not to accept Inge. The Captain doesn’t say whether he will accede to Vogel’s request.

The Captain wants a woman too: Gruber’s woman, Erica (Florinda Bolkan). They dice for her, and when asked what the dice say, Erica chooses to lie, and goes with The Captain.

Then The Captain decides that the shrine the villagers believe protects their village must be moved. His policy is to keep them off-balance so they don’t have time to plot against him. There’s also the possibility that seeing the shrine might actually direct other invading forces to this little haven they’ve found, and he doesn’t want the competition.

So they move the shrine a few yards, and when the villagers hear of this, they come up the hill, armed with whatever they can lay their hands on, led by two of the Catholic soldiers, Hansen and Pirelli (Yorgo Voyagis). Inge is there as well.

The Captain instructs the men he has with him to kill Pirelli and Hansen first, but when Hansen confronts him: “Did they touch the shrine?” Vogel steps in, claiming he had a dream that Our Lady hid herself and thereby hid the valley.

The mob is pacified, and all go to see the shrine in its new location.

Hansen takes the opportunity to grab Inge – who he’s had his eye on – by the arm.

The minute The Captain sees that Hansen wants her, his mind is made up. He tells her she will not go to the soldiers, thus engineering further confrontation with his most dangerous military rival.

The next day, six hapless young women are handed over to the soldiers.

No doubt most of them came under pressure to go, and all of them have been conned with the promise of immediate
passage to heaven when they die.

After looking them all over and finding them wanting, Hansen goes looking for Inge. He finds her at the shrine.

He chases her down and is about to rape her when Vogel shows up.

Unlikely as this seems, given his lack of military training, Vogel manages to disarm Hansen.

Hansen is put to flight.

Hansen knows what his fate is likely to be, so he takes a couple of supporters and goes to find The Captain, who is in
bed with Erica. In an attempt to get The Captain to open his shutters, Hansen calls out that there’s trouble – saying
that Vogel has raped Inge.

But Hansen’s supporter is not a good enough shot, and The Captain escapes uninjured. Three of them, including Hansen, flee on horseback, and the village is left in peace for a while. Snow sets in, and some of the soldiers seem to be being assimilated. The child soldier, Julio (Miguel Alejandro) – normally as ruthless as his adult companions – poignantly tries to understand the village children’s games, and eventually makes some friends.

Meanwhile The Captain prepares for the challenge he expects from Hansen. If the village is to be kept a secret from the outside world, he knows he has to kill all of the force Hansen brings against him; all Hansen needs to do to win, is to kill him.

The Captain has only seventeen men, and expects Hansen to bring thirty, so he enlists the help of the villagers, making it an issue of protecting the Valley, rather than just saving his own life.

Erica – a Satan worshipper – creates a voodoo doll of Hansen and stabs and buries it, along with imprecations that he be killed. The Captain and the villagers set various defences and traps in place.

Hansen attacks.

He brings thirty-two men, but it isn’t enough to defeat his erstwhile comrades, and the whole village.

He rides into a trap, and can only watch, as what is left of his invasion force make their escape, leaving him hemmed in.
Even Pirelli – his fellow Catholic – stands against him.

The Captain fires a shot; either Hansen is hit, or his horse is. Either way, both go down. Michael Gothard’s fine horse-
manship must have been a great asset in these battle scenes, obviating the need to employ a stunt double.

Hansen struggles out from under his horse, barely able to stand.

The boy Julio runs from cover, and takes Hansen down from behind, with a blow from a flail.

Hansen goes down, writhing on the ground, half-paralysed.

He calls out for Vogel, obviously seeing him as the most compassionate of the triumvirate that now rules the
village, and begs him: “Give me a knife. Don’t leave me alive. Please Vogel.”

At the start of the film, Hansen was ready to give quarter to an enemy – but he gets none. Vogel just stares at him.

Hansen calls to Father Sebastian: “Help me. I’m a Catholic, please for the love of God.”

The Priest is equally impassive.

Then he manages to turn to look at The Captain. “He’s the Devil incarnate!”

The Captain just calls for one of his men, Graff, who stands over Hansen and draws a small knife from his hat.

We are spared the sight of Hansen being castrated; probably because the Director wanted us to retain sympathy for The Captain.

Hansen has killed, looted and raped his way across Europe with gusto. He seems to enjoy what he does, and he doesn't want anything to change.

The Captain has orchestrated the killing, looting and raping by his troop, and yet he does it coldly. He kills whenever it suits him, and without passion, without belief in any cause, and one wonders why he bothers. He claims his sole concern is his own survival.

In the end, Hansen is sentenced to a painful death, by a man wearing a cardigan.

With the spring comes news of the war, and The Captain needs to go back to what he knows so well. He decides that they will sell their services to the Protestant side this time, and when Father Sebastian protests, he goes into a brilliant nihilistic, atheistic rant.

He leaves Vogel in charge, supposedly to keep an eye on things, and make sure Erica is safe.

Vogel isn’t up to the task. He’s good at forging compromises, but he lacks courage. When the Priest catches Erica praying to Satan for the Captain’s safety, Vogel does nothing to prevent her being horribly tortured, only succeeding in covertly cutting her throat before she is burnt as a witch.

Gruber, her former lover, does even less, going into his hut, to weep.

It is left to one of the soldiers who stayed behind to throw Father Sebastian onto the fire to burn as well.

Meanwhile, most members of The Captain’s troop have been killed. The last time we see Julio, he is standing on a pile of dead bodies – including that of the mercenary who’d been looking out for him – screaming “Captain! Captain! Captain!”

The Captain returns to the Valley, hoping to see Erica one last time.

Vogel tries desperately to reach him, to warn him that Gruber has laid an ambush for him. But The Captain is already dying, and as he dies, Inge pretends to be Erica to comfort him.

Vogel goes off on his travels, leaving the Valley behind him.

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