The Immortal Story

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The Immortal Story
Immortal Story poster.jpg
Spanish theatrical poster
Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by Micheline Rozan
Written by Karen Blixen (story)
Louise de Vilmorin
Orson Welles
Starring Jeanne Moreau
Orson Welles
Roger Coggio
Norman Eshley
Cinematography Willy Kurant
Edited by Claude Farny
Françoise Garnault
Yolande Maurette
Marcelle Pluet
Distributed by Altura Films S.L. (US)
Omnia-Film (world)
Release date
May 24, 1968 (France)
September 18 (NYFF)
February 1969 (US)
Running time
60 mins (English version)
48 mins (French version)
Country France
Language English

The Immortal Story (French: Une histoire immortelle) is a 1968 French film directed by Orson Welles and starring Jeanne Moreau. The film was originally broadcast on French television and was later released in theaters. It was based on a short story by the Danish writer Karen Blixen (more widely known by her pen name Isak Dinesen). With a running time of 60 minutes, it is the shortest feature film directed by Welles.


In 19th century Macao, Mr. Clay (Orson Welles) is a wealthy merchant at the end of his life. His only constant companion is his bookkeeper, a Polish-Jewish emigrant named Levinsky (Roger Coggio). One evening, Levinsky mentions an apocryphal story of a rich old man who offers a sailor five guineas to impregnate his wife. Clay becomes obsessed in making that legendary tale come true, and Levinsky is dispatched to find a sailor and a young woman who will play the part of Clay’s wife. Levinsky approaches Virginie (Jeanne Moreau), the daughter of Clay’s one-time business partner. Clay’s ruthless dealings drove Virginie’s father to bankruptcy and suicide, and she is eager to participate in this action to get her revenge. The destitute sailor, a young Englishman named Paul (Norman Eshley), is discovered on the street and recruited. Virginie and Paul find an emotional bond in their brief union, but go their separate ways – Virginie is exorcised of her bitterness against Clay while Paul disappears into Macao’s teeming streets. Levinsky goes to inform Clay about what took place, but discovers the old merchant has died.[1]



Orson Welles was a self-professed admirer of the writing of Karen Blixen and, at one point, announced plans to create a series of films based on her writing.[2] The Immortal Story is a short story first published in Blixen's 1958 short story collection Anecdotes of Destiny. Originally The Immortal Story was meant to be half of a two-part anthology film, with the second half based on the Blixen story The Deluge at Nordenay. However, the second film was cancelled when Welles raised concerns about the professionalism of his crew in Budapest, Hungary, where production was to have taken place.[3]

Welles received financing from Organisation Radio-Télévision Française to create The Immortal Story for premiere presentation on French television, to be followed by theatrical release in France and other countries. As part of the financing, Welles was contractually obligated to shoot the film in color. Welles was not a fan of color cinematography, and in one interview he stated: "Color enhances the set, the scenery, the costumes, but mysteriously enough it only detracts from the actors. Today it is impossible to name one outstanding performance by an actor in a color film." [4]

Much of the film was shot in Welles’ home, located outside of Madrid, Spain. Exterior scenes depicting Macao were shot in Chinchón, a town near Madrid. Welles used Chinese restaurant waiters from Madrid as extras to recreate the setting for Macao.[3]


The Immortal Story was entered into the 18th Berlin International Film Festival in June 1968.[5] The film had its U.S. premiere at the 1968 New York Film Festival. In February 1969, it had its U.S. theatrical release on a double feature bill with Luis Buñuel's Simon of the Desert.[6]

On 30 August 2016, The Immortal Story was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S. by the Criterion Collection.[7]

In September 2010 Madman Entertainment will release both the English language and shorter French language versions of the film on a single Region 4 DVD.

The film has been recently aired on the Turner Classic Movies cable television network. The film is now available to view on Hulu Plus as one of their titles available for streaming in partnership with the Criterion Collection.[8] Criterion has released the film on Blu-ray and DVD on August 30, 2016.[9]


  1. ^ Cowie, Peter. “The Cinema of Orson Welles.”1978, A.S. Barnes & Co.
  2. ^ Film Threat review
  3. ^ a b “Orson Welles” by Charles Higham, Google Books
  4. ^ Brady, Frank. "Citizen Welles." 1989, Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 0-684-18982-8]
  5. ^ " Awards for The Immortal Story". Retrieved 2010-03-05. 
  6. ^ New York Times review
  7. ^ The Criterion Collection website
  8. ^ Watch The Film On Hulu
  9. ^ "The Immortal Story". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2016-05-17. 

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