The Immortal Story

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 theatres. 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 sixty minutes, it is the shortest feature film directed by Welles.

The Immortal Story
Spanish theatrical poster
Directed byOrson Welles
Produced byMicheline Rozan
Screenplay byLouise de Vilmorin
Orson Welles
Based onThe Immortal Story
by Karen Blixen
StarringJeanne Moreau
Orson Welles
Roger Coggio
Norman Eshley
CinematographyWilly Kurant
Edited byClaude Farny
Françoise Garnault
Yolande Maurette
Marcelle Pluet
Distributed byAltura 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)


In nineteenth-century Macao, Mr. Clay (Orson Welles) is a wealthy merchant at the end of his life. His only constant companion is his book-keeper, a Polish-Jewish emigrant named Levinsky (Roger Coggio). One evening, while reading to Clay before bed, Levinsky recites a prophecy. Clay declares his hatred of prophecies and begins to tell a story he once heard on a ship of a rich old man who offers a sailor five guineas to impregnate his wife, however Levinsky completes the story, having heard it himself from multiple other seamen. 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 Dane 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. 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.[5]

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

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 was available to view on FilmStruck as one of their titles available for streaming in partnership with The Criterion Collection. Criterion has released the film on Blu-ray and DVD on August 30, 2016.[6]


  1. Cowie, Peter. “The Cinema of Orson Welles.”1978, A.S. Barnes & Co.
  2. "Film Threat". Film Threat.
  3. Higham, Charles (15 September 1985). "Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius". Macmillan via Google Books.
  4. Brady, Frank. "Citizen Welles." 1989, Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 0-684-18982-8]
  5. Weiler, A. H. (12 February 1969). "Screen: Festival Films on Double Bill:Bunuel Makes Modern Fable of St. Simon" via
  6. "The Immortal Story". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2016-05-17.
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