The Portuguese colony of Macao in the 19th century. Mr. Clay is a very rich merchant and the subject of town gossip. He has spent many years in China and is now quite old. He likes his clerk Levinsky to read the company’s accounts to him at night for relaxation. Tonight Mr. Clay recounts a true story he heard years before about a rich man who paid a poor sailor 5 guineas to father a child with his beautiful young wife. Levinsky says that’s a popular old sailor’s legend and not true. Mr. Clay has no heir for his fortune and no wife either. He resolves to make the story true… Levinsky approaches Virginie, another clerk’s mistress, and strikes a bargain for 300 guineas. —IMDb
The prodigy son of an inventor and a musician, Welles was well-versed in literature at an early age, particularly Shakespeare, and, through the unusual circumstances of his life (both of his parents died by the time he was 12, leaving him with an inheritance and not many family obligations), he found himself free to indulge his numerous interests, which included the theater. He was educated in private schools and traveled the world. He found it tougher to get onto the Broadway stage, and get a job with Katharine Cornell. He later became associated with John Houseman, and, together, the two of them set the New York theater afire during the 1930s with their work for the Federal Theatre Project, which led to the founding of the Mercury Theater. The Mercury Players later graduated to radio, and their 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast made history when thousands of listeners mistakenly believed aliens had landed on Earth. In 1940, Hollywood beckoned, and Welles and company went west to… read more
Welles, who had no qualms playing freely around with Shakespeare, is much more more reticent when it comes to adapting Dinesen (his favourite author). It is a very literal and completely faithful adaptation of her story. It feels quite stilted at first but by the second half (especially the scenes between the sailor and Virginie)the film beautifully captures the story's fable like, otherworldly quality.
A unique effort from Welles. Initially, at least, I came away with feelings similar to those I felt after watching The Lady From Shanghai - this is either a very good film or a very a bad one. And like my assessment of Shanghai, I feel confident in saying that this is a very good film, one that asks for repeat viewings.
Extrodinary. I will dream of this film when I go to sleep tonight. Also, the color photography by Willy Kurant (who also shot Masculin-Feminin for Godard and the latest Garrel) is nothing short of gorgeous. Shame that this is not as available as his other films, as it is every bit as great.