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A Movie ‘Mystery’ Unveiled At Last

nullI’ve always been curious—no, fascinated—by the 1960 movie Scent of Mystery, the first and only
picture ever released in Smell-O-Vision. I even have the original program book,
which explains the short-lived process, which piped various fragrances (roses,
perfume, tobacco) into the theater when cued by actions onscreen. But I’ve
never had a chance to see the movie, let alone smell it. It had an all-too-brief
theatrical run, even when it was reissued in Cinerama—without the aroma
gimmick—under the title Holiday in Spain.
My longtime curiosity has finally been sated by a new Blu-ray release of Holiday in Spain, in a deluxe Smile-box
edition, simulating the curved Cinerama screen. The film has been “remastered
and reconstructed” by the world’s foremost Cinerama experts, David Strohmaier
and Paul Sittig, from the best surviving 65mm elements.

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The package includes a 36-page reproduction of the original
program book, a CD of Mario Nascimbene’s score, a demonstration of how the film
was painstakingly brought back to life through digital wizardry, and interviews
with leading lady Beverly Bentley and Susan Todd, daughter of the film’s
producer Mike Todd, Jr. Film buff Bruce Kimmel (who remembers seeing the original
presentation at the Ritz Theatre in Los Angeles as a 12-year-old boy) leads a lively
conversation on the commentary track with preservationist Strohmaier and actress
Sandra Shahan, who appeared in the film and was on location for the entirety of
its production in Spain back in 1959.         

All of this helps compensate for the undeniable fact that Holiday in Spain is a chore to sit
through. In fact, the charming interviews and enjoyable commentary track, along
with the story of how the film was made and then salvaged in recent years, are
much more interesting than the movie itself. The travelogue aspect of the film
remains its strongest asset, with panoramic views of Granada, Andalucía,
Pamplona, and other beautiful locations in Spain. Legendary cinematographer
Jack Cardiff, here taking the director’s reins, offers some exciting
first-person shots for action scenes and gimmicky moments that must have looked
great on the giant theater screen.

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But the screenplay by William Roos is arch and off-putting
from moment leading man Denholm Elliott begins his first-person narration and
explains why he is vacationing in Spain after achieving success writing mystery
novels. This is supposed to explain why he becomes involved in a real-life
mystery, as he and cab driver Peter Lorre spend the bulk of the film tracking an
elusive  woman (Beverly Bentley) who
seems to be the object of a murderous conspiracy, led (it seems) by a
shifty-looking Paul Lukas. (Near the beginning of their quest they question a
bikini-clad blonde on the beach, played by Diana Dors.)

I can’t honestly recommend the movie, but oddly enough I can
recommend the Blu-ray, because it provides such an interesting
behind-the-scenes look at a famous failure. After its limited engagements in
the ill-fated Smell-O-Vision process, Scent
of Mystery
was edited and retitled Holiday
in Spain
, then presented in Cinerama theaters as a “Cinemiracle”
attraction.

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Of Smell-O-Vision, Jack Cardiff recalled in his
autobiography, Magic Hour, “our big
night…took place in Chicago. The cinema had a thousand seats and most of the
audience were trade people. On the back of each seat a tiny pipe was fitted
with a spray to project smells to the viewer seated behind. The pipes ran under
the floor where an enormous dispensing machine had been installed acting as a
‘smell brain,’ having stored every aroma to be projected during the film. In
addition to the eight tracks on our 70mm film, there was an extra track
carrying the smell signal. As the film travelled through the projector an
electric signal triggered a mechanism which projected a small quantity of
aroma-laden air on-cue to every seat in the audience. Well, the magnificent
machinery worked wonderfully. The only trouble was, the smells that were
projected towards the eager nostrils were exactly like cheap eau-de-cologne.
The film was released in New York where the critics all had wrinkled noses and
acerbic tongues. Then came a bathetic coup de grace. In a nearby cinema, a few
days before the New York opening, an enterprising gent showed an awful ‘B’ film
and installed incense in the air conditioning, triumphantly advertising his
film as ‘the first smellie.’ ”

Full-Ad-Scent-of-Mystery

Actress Bentley is a delightful interview, and Susan Todd
provides a personal touch as she remembers her late father, who perhaps
reluctantly stepped the shoes of his
famous father, the legendary showman Mike Todd. (To keep it all in the family,
there is a cameo appearance at the end of the film by “the world’s most
beautiful woman,” and the title song “Scent of Mystery” is sung by none other
than Eddie Fisher.) Holiday in Spain
is available exclusively from screenarchives.com.

Incidentally, if you haven’t yet sampled the Cinerama
features now being offered in Smile-Vision, you should check out the offerings
at Flicker Alley, including their two newest releases, Cinerama’s Search for Paradise and Seven
Wonders of the World
. The fact that these unique movie experiences are now
available for viewing at home is cause for celebration. 

        

        

        

         

9 comments

  1. Carl LaFong says:

    "Smell-o-Vision weplaces Television?"
    -Elmer Fudd in OLD GREY HARE (1944)

  2. Jerry Beck says:

    Even MORE obscure and mysterious (to me) than SCENT OF MYSTERY is the cartoon short that accompanied it – A TALE OF OLD WHIFF, directed by John Hubley, with the voice of Bert Lahr! This cartoon was released in 70mm and in Smell-O-Vision – but no one knows (to date) where a print (much less the negative) may be, as it as never released in 35mm or 16mm, nor sans "Smell-o-Vision". Model sheets and stills exist – and a plot synopsis is in the program book for SCENT OF MYSTERY. If anyone knows of there where a bouts of this cartoon – I’d love to cross it off my bucket list.

  3. EricW says:

    MTV actually ran Scent of Mystery one time in the late 80s-early 90s. The Smell-o-vision element of the film was represented by a scratch-and-sniff card you could pick up at the local Seven-Eleven.

  4. gary meyer says:

    And a SCENT OF MYSTERY wikipedia article has additional interesting info on smelly movies. Again you have to find the url.

  5. gary meyer says:

    An enterprising exhibitor/distributor, Walter Reade of Continental, clearly anticipating the January 1960 release of SCENT OF MYSTERY took a pretty good documentary about China, added smells and released BEHIND THE GREAT WALL in Dec. 1959 in AromaRama with smells piped through theaters’ air circulation system. I was 11 and remember how nauseating most of the smells were….a goal John Waters emulated in POLYESTER to better effect.
    Variety suggested it was "the battle of the smellies." Bosley Crowther’s NY Times review does an excellent job of explaining everything.
    Indiewire won’t let me post the url…says is "seems spammy." Thank stinks

  6. gary meyer says:

    It was a scribe’s quote that it smelled but straighr from the ad copy as seen in the article. And having seen it at San Francisco’s Orpheum, home Ciberama and produced by Around The World in 80 Days oroducer Michael Todd, I was one pretty excited kid. But even I found out thatvit was a stinker pretty quickly.

  7. mike schlesinger says:

    I saw it at the Dome when they had a special one-night screening a couple of years ago, and the film-savvy audience all cracked up when Lorre’s character mentioned his "time in Casablanca."

  8. Norm says:

    I guess porno missed their big chance 50 plus years ago or maybe Apocalypse Now…

  9. Nat Segaloff says:

    I think it was Ezra Goodman who either wrote himself or quoted some wag whose comment on "Scent of Mystery" was "First they moved (1896), then they talked (1927), and now they smell."

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