BR: Scent of Mystery / Holiday in Spain (1960 / 1962)

December 15, 2014 | By


HolidayInSpain_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Perfect

Label: Redwind Productions

Region: A, B, C

Released:  November 11, 2014

Genre:  Comedy / Mystery / Cinerama

Synopsis: A mystery writer vacationing in Spain discovers a plot to kill an heiress in the first and only feature film produced & released in Smell-O-Vision.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with historians Bruce Kimmel and Dave Strohmaier and cast member Sandra Shahan / 2 Featurette: “Holiday in Spain” (14:35) / Deleted scenes and selection of “rushes” (10:01) + “Remastering Holiday in Spain” (7:25) / 2 Interviews: actress Beverly Bentley (18:22) + Susan Todd, daughter of producer Mike Todd, Jr. (15:11) / Production & Publicity Stills Montage (9:58) / Cinerama Trailer Gallery: “This is Cinerama,” “Cinerama Holiday”, “Seven Wonders of the World,” “Search for Paradise,” “Cinerama South Seas Adventure,” “Windjammer,” “Holiday in Spain,” and “The Golden Head” / Bonus Kritzerland CD soundtrack album / 36-page colour reproduction of 1960 “Scent of Mystery” souvenir program / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




Please note: Links to a series of related Q&As are at the end of this review.


Preamble: A Precis of Cinerama

The production and exhibition history of this infamous orphan film is almost as colourful as the fabulous Spanish locations that were originally filmed in 65mm to augment this part travelogue / part cheeky mystery of a British writer who stumbles upon a plot to knock off an imminent heiress by someone unknown… but always close by.

Holiday in Spain was initially planned as an alternative evolution of film exhibition by its original benefactor, Mike Todd, one of the partners in the 3-strip, super-widescreen format Cinerama in the early fifties. Widescreen films had existed as early as the twenties and early thirties – Fox had produced a few films in the Grandeur format, like The Big Trail (1930) – but the Depression and high costs of both production and outfitting theatres killed any future efforts, literally mothballing some of the technology until Cinerama debuted in 1952 with the travelogue / wowing feature film This is Cinerama. The format’s main rivals were CinemaScope from Fox, SuperScope from RKO, Technirama, Paramount’s VistaVision, and other variants within the U.S. and Europe (the use of “scope” and “rama” were very prolific), and alongside Cinerama’s sprawling visual design was an 8-track audio system that enveloped audiences with surround sound and booming music.

Even though the first Cinerama films were successful, some playing in the same custom cinemas for years, they were essentially travelogues, so the next step to ensure the format’s survival was applying the wide film format to a more traditional narrative – a comedy, a western, a drama, whatever.

Cinerama’s other problem was the design that enabled it to be so wide – three separate panels placed side-by-side to give an amazing panoramic image at 2.60:1, compared to CinemaScope’s  initial 2.55:1 and later standardized 2.35:1 ratio. There was also the issue of visible seams between each of the three panels, since the process mandated three camera magazines capturing three adjoining perspectives which were projected onto a wide curved screen using three projectors.

The manpower to capture and exhibit a Cinerama film was substantive, and at some point the wide-film process needed to be distilled into a single-strip camera / projector system; something less cumbersome and less costly that would ensure Cinerama had enough flexibility for dramatic film exhibition. (Todd himself branched out and co-developed his own process, Todd-AO, with American Optical Co. Their first released film was Oklahoma! in 1955.)


And Now For Something That Smells

Single-strip Cinerama was still years away – the 3-strip system would be used for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won (both 1962) before a single-strip switch-over of sorts a year later – so the next idea in Todd’s mind was reportedly the concept of immersing audiences in scents to add another dimension to the widescreen film experience. Using a kind of scent organ, specific scents – a pipe, perfume, roses – would be piped into the auditorium and later sucked out at specific times to cleans the auditorium prior to the next timed scent.

According to granddaughter Susan Todd, Todd Sr. developed the process before his sudden death in a plane crash in 1958, and son Mike Todd, Jr. (who directed the famous rollercoaster sequence in This is Cinerama) decided to bring the process to fruition, but when Scent of Mystery, the resulting film, bombed in 1960, he took credit for Smell-O-Vision rather than having the legacy of Todd Sr. be discolored with an odiferous blunder.

The concept of scented movies wasn’t exclusive to the Todds – at the time of Mystery’s release, another film, Carlo Lizzani’s documentary Behind the Great Wall (1959), was playing in Aroma-Rama, and decades later director John Waters had fun with the idea by crafting custom scratch & sniff cards (dubbed Odorama) for Polyester (1981), using scents as garish as glue and feces. (The 1993 Criterion laserdisc actually included scratch & sniff cards.)

The failure of Mystery ultimately led to it being withdrawn and eventually acquired by Cinerama, who felt they could reissue the film in a shorter, unscented / “deodorized” version, with its gorgeous visuals split into 3-panel ‘rectified’ prints in 1962.

Rechristened Holiday in Spain, the new film, cut down from a reported 125 mins. to the current 102 mins., obliterated the memory of Smell-O-Vision, and was exhibited throughout the world in 3-panel Cinerama and Cinemiracle before it was withdrawn, sold to another company, and utterly forgotten for decades.

A rare 1985 MTV broadcast (described by Bruce Kimmel in a 2004 Film Score Monthly post as “the single worst presentation of a film on TV”) consisted of airing the videotaped middle of a rare 70mm screening. (For a fleeting period, clips from this broadcast were floating around YouTube, and looked like shit.)

MTV viewers could buy a scratch & sniff card from participating 7-11 shops prior to the one-time airing, and this elaborate ‘TV event’ was part of several voguish efforts during the 1980s to cash-in on a kind of ‘bad movie’ revival, perhaps inspired by the Medved brothers’ best-selling book The Golden Turkey Awards.

(In Toronto, CityTV aired its weekend version, the CityTV Not-So-Great movie, which included classic stinkers like The Creeping Unknown, Jesse James meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, and Dracula vs. Frankenstein, to name a few.)

In spite of that rare TV appearance, Holiday ceased to exist beyond a footnote as the first and only film in Smell-O-Vision, a weird process augmented by a marketing campaign that declared “FIRST (1983) They Moved… THEN (1927) They Talked… NOW (1959) They Smell… Smell-O-Vision… The Process to end all Processes.”

That is astonishingly bad marketing, and yet it even if the p.r. sheets had opted for better copy, Todd Jr.’s production couldn’t defend itself because the film was no longer in circulation after its original theatrical run, and as the decades passed, it wasn’t in any shape for exhibition.

Dave Strohmaier’s part reconstruction, part restoration includes material from surviving 70mm prints and bits from the 65mm negative, but there’s no complete 3-panel version in existence, nor much footage from the longer Mystery version.

The stereophonic audio on the Blu-ray comes from the 70mm prints, and with careful transfer to 2K digital and digital restoration software, Holiday is finally viewable on home video, if not in a new digital master for cinemas.

Using his Smilebox process, which mimics the curved screen exhibition of the original Cinerama process, Holiday is back in circulation in an inaugural pressing of 2000 discs, available exclusively via Screen Archives Entertainment, which also handles the Twilight Time line.

As with anyone who grew up hearing and reading about Scent of Mystery / Holiday in Spain, perhaps the first question is ‘Does the film really stink?’

The answer is a full No. It’s not perfect, but it isn’t an all-out disaster. Shorn of its gimmicky scents, Holiday plays sort of like a reverse-designed, single ending Clue (1985), in which a murder is imminent, and finding the culprit among myriad odd and mysterious characters who pass in & out of the narrative is imperative.


Holiday in Spain

Based on their 1947 novel Ghost of a Chance, the script by husband & wife team William and Kelley Roos has Oliver “Lucky” Larker (Denholm Elliott), a former RAF pilot turned writer wandering through pretty Spain, encountering a series of eccentric and mysterious characters, including taxi driver Smiley (Peter Lorre), American / imminent heiress Sally Kennedy (Beverly Bentley), her flamboyant brother Tommy (Leo McKern), and a surreptitious Baron Saradin (Paul Lukas).

When Larker suspects Sally is in danger, he enlists Smiley as his chauffeur to follow her trail, always missing her until a cliffside fisticuff that saves her life, and kindles a burgeoning romance. The pair eventually travel to her brother’s hotel, but en route they’re chased by the nefarious Baron and a mysterious shadow who repeatedly attempts to knock off anyone close to Sally.

Renowned Technicolor cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes) had already made his directorial debut with Intent to Kill (1958) and Beyond This Place (1959), and he seemed a natural to helm a travelogue, especially (according to his autobiography) since he’d shot a series of travelogue-styled films in Europe during the 1940s for a wealthy benefactor.

Cardiff may not have been an actor’s director, but he knew how to construct visuals that would exploit both colour and the breadth of wide film formats, and John von Kotze was proving his own skills as cinematographer after having been a camera operator on a number of films, including The African Queen (1951), Sea Wife (1957), and Solomon and Sheba (1959).

In addition to splendid location work, there’s art direction & production design by the legendary Vincent Korda (The Spy in Black, The Four Feathers, The Third Man), and a lush score by Mario Nascimbene who found the right balance between lofty travelogue music and light dramatic underscore.

Holiday is very top-heavy with British talent, and while McKern can’t mimic a full American accent, it’s a delight to see a younger version of the future Rumpole filled with cranky bluster, and perhaps adding a bit more dynamic attitude to his character to compensate for the film’s weak dialogue. The plot does travel a wiggling route to its endpoint, but the dialogue sounds like an Americanized attempt to evoke upper class British vernacular; never especially witty, often perfunctory.

The travelogue component of Holiday is its saving grace and sore point, because there’s a lot of driving: Larker and Smiley leave the big city for the rolling countryside, giving Cardiff Kotze great moments to exploit the  rich earthy colours and arresting shapes of curving roads, sloping fields, exquisite coastlines, and rocky valleys – but these sequences do slow down the narrative, and it’s only when a menacing, shadowy assassin attempts to knock off Larker and Sally that film becomes energized.

There are some stellar sequences – a mountain ‘gypsy’ camp may not be ripe with action, but the dancing locals add as much colour as a later scene capturing the running of the bulls through streets and into a bullfighting ring where several bulls plow into men – but the standouts are a moody slow chase through a shadowy former mosque, and a crazy chase along a rocky canyon and train tunnels. These scenes shine because they’re both beautifully choreographed, and expertly edited.

Holiday‘s twist finale is appropriately fluffy, and although there’s no grisly violence, one death involving the Baron’s henchman (:more money”) losing his head is darkly comedic.

In the Blu-ray’s lengthy commentary track, historian / Holiday mega-fan Bruce Kimmel mentions how many character details were cut out after Cinerama acquired Scent of Mystery, and the loss of material in the first half may explain the sudden jumps which seem to push Larker faster from scenes in a garden to a crowded street, and quickly into action once he realizes Sally’s in mortal danger. Kimmel says the bulk of Cinerama’s cuts were applied to the final hour, but Cinerama may have felt any excess chatter and driving scenes slowed down Holiday‘s denouement.

Cinerama also had Elliott record a kind of self-observational narration which is heavy in the film’s first quarter, and then disappears from the film, except in a few odd places. The inconsistency of the narration and its sometimes treading over dialogue is rather messy; whether it managed to smoothen missing scenes can only be ascertained by the rare few who saw the film during its Mystery days, like Kimmel.

The sound mix is surprisingly resonant, especially the bass and mid-range, and when Elliott’s narration kicks in, it really resonates. Nascimbene’s music (which is showcased in a bonus CD replicating the recent Kritzerland release) is crystal clear in the sound mix, and the film features a main vocal theme that’s catchy (but sounds like a not-too-distant cousin of “I’ve Got You Under my Skin”).

Because the film was never designed to have any credits, the Blu-ray includes a full-colour reproduction of the original 36-page souvenir book that audiences could purchase in soft or hardcover editions during Mystery‘s original Smell-O-Vision engagement.

Among the extras is a still gallery set to Nascimbene’s score, surviving deleted scenes from the Mystery version plus selection of outtakes, and an entertaining featurette in which Strohmaier compares the film’s locations to their present day states.

Interview subjects include star Beverly Bentley discussing her career evolution from TV ads to TV shows, films, and stage work; and daughter Susan Todd, who describes Todd, Jr.’s quest to bring his father’s aromatic film process to fruition, and its failure.

It’s especially amusing to see Todd hold up original production art sketches by Korda, and a bottle of perfume given out as a promo during the film’s Mystery release (which she bought off Ebay). Bentley details working with costars Elliott and Lorre, and saving Lorre’s life during production. (The heavyset actor wasn’t in the best of health, but prior to his death in 1964, he appeared in several TV shows, and more memorably in Roger Corman’s Poe films:  Tales of Terror, The Raven, and The Comedy of Terrors.)

The Blu-ray’s real treat is the ongoing, often hysterical commentary track with Strohmaier, Kimmel, and actress Sandra Shahan, who was Bentley’s stand-in, and played Sally when seen walking away from the camera or driving the character’s cherry-red Mercedes coup. Kimmel lets flow all kinds of great apocrypha, and there’s a brief discussion of Old Whiff (1960), the still-lost, short animated film that preceded some screenings of Mystery and was also presented in Smell-O-Vsion and featured the voice of Bert Lahr and direction by John Hubley.

The BR’s last featurette details the film’s reconstruction & restoration, and it’s amazing what Strohmaier and his team were able to extricate from the surviving materials. A badly looped film magazine resulted in jittering images in the negative, and the surviving 70mm prints had faded to a soft purple. The final restoration features more stable images, and enough extracted colours to recapture most of the reds that probably blazed across the screen when brand spanking new.



Holiday in Spain will always be regarded as an oddity in the eternal battle by filmmakers (namely producers and studios) to get bums back into cinema seats. As misguided as scented movies may have been (allergy-prone moviegoers wouldn’t have lasted long without some kind of antihistamine), it did provide us with a gorgeous looking film directed by a master cameraman in splendid widescreen.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of Holiday isn’t its connection to Smell-O-Vision, but that for its stars and craftspeople, it was a movie that for all intents and purposes, never existed; a movie that vanished, except in the annals of bad cinema retrospectives like The Golden Turkey Awards.

In its current and final incarnation, Holiday ain’t bad. It’s actually a fine film for lovers of light, British-tinged whodunnits (or who’ll-do-its?), if not fans of tweedy Denholm Elliott  and scene-stealer Peter Lorre.

Also available: interviews with Dave Strohmaier and Blu-ray producer Brian Jamieson.

Film released in 3-strip Cinerama include This is Cinerama (1952), Cinerama Holiday (1955), Seven Wonders of the World (1956), Search for Paradise (1957), South Seas Adventure (1958), the Cinemricale production Windjammer (1958), The Wonderful World of the Brosthers Grimm (1962), Holiday in Spain (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), The Best of Cinerama (1962), and Cinerama’s Russian Adventure (1966).

Feature film released in single-trip 70mm ‘rectified’ Cinerama prints in North America and / or Europe include It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Circus World (1964), Mediterranean Holiday (1964), The Golden Head (1965),  La Fayette (1964), Chronicle of Flaming Years (1965), The Black Tulip (1965), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), The Hallelujah Trail (1965), Battle of the Bulge (1965), Khartoum (1966), Grand Prix (1966), Custer of the West (1967), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Ice Station Zebra (1968), Krakatoa, East of Java (1969), Song of Norway (1970), The Great Waltz (1972), and Run, Run, Joe! (1974).



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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