‘A sumptuous experience’ Time Out
Macao, 1860. Elderly merchant Mr Clay (Orson Welles) lives alone in his grand, empty mansion. His only contact is with his clerk Levinsky (Roger Coggio), whose duties include relieving the tedium of Clay’s insomnia by reading to him from his account books. One night, he tries to break the monotony by recounting the story that is told on every ship… about a rich man who paid a poor sailor five guineas to father a child with young wife. With no heir to his own fortune, Mr Clay resolves to make the legend true. Enter Virginia Ducrot (Jeanne Moreau). Now to find the sailor…
Orson Welles made this 60-minute period drama (his next, F for Fake, would be his last) on a shoestring for French TV, based on a novel by Isak Dinesen (the pseudonym for Danish author, Karen Blixen), who Welles greatly admired, and who is best known for her autobiographical novel Out of Africa and for Babette’s Feast.
Welles’s presence, as both star and director, dominates The Immortal Story, which centres on loneliness and old age, but this theatrical-looking film isn’t as depressing as it sounds, thanks to Welles’ brooding performance, the Gothic-infused story, the exotic setting (Chinchón, near Madrid, stands in for Macao), and Willy Kurant’s richly textured palette (he also worked with Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Robbe-Grillet so you know its going to look great). Bringing gravitas to the bittersweet story are veteran French stars Jeanne Moreau and Fernando Rey. For it’s 1969 US release, The Immortal Story appeared in a double-bill with Luis Buñuel’s satirical modern fable, Simon of the Desert. Now, there’s one that’s also deserving of a restoration.
The Immortal Story is available on DVD in the UK from Mr Bongo Films, and screens at the BFI Southbank from 1-3 August as part of the Orson Welles centenary season.