If he’s remembered at all today, James Clavell is primarily thought of as a novelist (most especially Shogun), with a few people perhaps remembering his screenwriting on films as diverse as The Fly (1958) and The Great Escape (1963) — but he also made a few movies. The most famous (perhaps because of the theme song by Lulu) of these is To Sir, with Love (1967), which holds up very nicely nearly 40 years later.
His historical drama about the Thirty Years War, The Last Valley (1971), is almost unknown — less because of any lack of quality than because it’s one of those unfortunate films released by an upstart or offshoot company in an era when such companies were threatening the major distributors. They didn’t last long and many of the films they handled have merely floated from distributor to distributor in the intervening years. Such seems to have been the fate of The Last Valley — a movie very much of its time and containing subject matter (the Thirty Years War?) not likely to attract much mainstream interest. At the time, however, this odd film about the encroachment of mercenary soldiers on an idyllic village with its anti-war sentiments probably seemed like a sound proposition.
And despite an apparently small budget, Michael Caine’s now-you-hear-it-now-you-don’t German accent, Omar Sharif’s peculiar gray makeup, and the fact that Clavell could write action, but directed it only awkwardly — The Last Valley is an interesting, thoughtful, unusual film — one that in an allegorical sense has once again become relevant.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke