In his nomadic travels, former teacher and intellectual Vogel (Omar Sharif) comes across a breathtakingly beautiful Austrian valley housing a peaceful Tyrolean village unaffected by the thirty years war raging around it.
An army of unamiable mercenaries led by The Captain (Michael Caine) discover it as well, but Vogel convinces the Captain that, rather than pillage the farms and torch the hamlet, the valley offers his men a fine chance for rest and comfort living off the fat of the land and the flesh of the village females for the duration of winter, safe from the plague and starvation.
The Captain kills off some of the more problematic members of his team, including the bestial ideologue Korski (Brian Blessed), and quells the doubts of the rest.
He uses Vogel to strike a bargain with the villagers and their most respected, powerful member, Gruber (Nigel Davenport), for amenable treatment. He then appoints him as mediator and judge between the soldiers and villagers.
Gruber indulges the soldiers whilst waiting for his chance.
The rapacious Hansen (Michael Gothard) is given to stirring up trouble, eventually raising a rival band of brigands to contest the valley.
Vogel does his best to survive between the fractious parties, romancing blonde shepherd’s daughter Inge (Madeline Hinde), but haunted by his family’s death in the sack of Magdeburg, a battle the Captain participated in.
The Captain himself takes on Erica (Florinda Bolkan), formerly Gruber’s girl, a lady who earns the wrath of village priest Father Sebastian (Per Oscarsson) by practising her own dark religion in the forest.
Just when you expect a showdown between the arrogant, selfish Gruber and the likeable, remarkably level-headed Captain, the viewer is cheated by a melodramatic death scene, and Vogel – given another chance at happiness and love – makes a pointless sacrifice and takes off over the hill, presumably heading for another valley as picturesque and as dangerous as the one he’s leaving behind.
The Last Valley is just over two hours long and drags most of the way because of the interminable amount of dialogue that breaks up the scenery.
Visually, however, the movie is a masterpiece, a series of moving pictures right pout of a Pieter Bruegel portfolio.