DVD Review: The Immortal Story
RHV, Italy, 2003
If any Welles film has generally slipped under the radar of the typical film fan (at least in America), The Immortal Story would certainly qualify as that title. This is less a question of the film's merit, as of the fact that it's one of a couple Welles titles to never receive a video release in the States (the other being Filming Othello), bootlegs aside. TIS seems no closer to a release here, but an Italian company has saved those with multi-format DVD capability from the purgatory of blurry bootlegs. This DVD, while not perfect, does present the film in three (!) different versions, a remarkable feature that sadly can't be done with most films, given length restraints. TIS's 59-minute runtime (in PAL video; the film runs approximately 62 minutes normally) allows such a presentation.
The first thing one will notice about this disc, particularly if like me you've only seen a low quality bootleg, is the eye-popping difference in video quality. What was blurry, muddy and washed out in bootlegs (taken presumably from the British VHS release of several years ago) is clear and colorful now. Further, the film has been presented in anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen, allowing those with widescreen TVs further clarity. A question remains of whether this was needed, as the film was made for French television as well as theatrical exhibition, but the framing generally looks fine. The source used is not perfect, as one can occasionally see dirt and other minor blemishes, but this is such a vast improvement from what I was used to that I can't complain too much. See this thread from the Wellesnet message board for a comparison between the better of the two bootleg copies I have and the new disc. Audio is solid, though some minor background static can be heard at times.
As noted, this disc includes three different versions of the film: English, French, and Italian. Being an Italian disc, no English (or any other language) subtitles are presented, and the two non-Italian versions have forced Italian subtitles, which is annoying, but shouldn't be considered fatal to the presentation. The disc includes a thoughtful, if difficult to follow, presentation of the three different versions onscreen at once to compare the differences. This feature includes only a couple scenes, but is of interest nonetheless. It could have been even more useful, had it delineated the differences between the three versions more fully, as the French and Italian versions run only a little under 47 minutes, as opposed to the English version's 59 minute run time. Providing the side-by-side-by-side comparison is nice, but it doesn't explain where about 12 minutes of the movie vanished to.
While on the topic of different versions, I was surprised to see that the English version I had first owned (the UK edition) contains slight differences from the English version presented on this disc. The first difference comes in the opening dialogue scene, where Fernando Rey chats about Clay with two other men. In the (we again presume) UK edition, the following lines are cut prior to Rey's opening line "There'd been a little matter of 300 guineas":
Man 1 (Rey): Bankrupted his own partner, Louis DeCrot. They quarrelled, DeCrot tried to start up on his own. But old Clay wouldn't hear of that. Oh no. He brought him to his knees.
Man 2 (voiced by Welles): Ruined him, eh?
Man 3: Ruined him? Him and his family were thrown right out in the street.
This cut is rather puzzling; the scene is brief, and the extra lines help clarify things a bit. There are other bits removed from the UK version, such as during Welles' lengthy narration about Levinsky as he walks back to his room. I'll have a further elaboration of the other differences in the future. The overall verdict, then? Unless and until a comparable UK/US edition surfaces that removes the forced Italian subtitles, this is a must have for those with the hardware to play it.