Scent of Mystery is carefully planned to synchronize scents with action in the film. Unlike AromaRama, which hit the market (in Manhattan) first, the script is designed with the smells in mind. In the AromaRama presentation, [Carlo Lizzani’s, Behind the Great Wall, 1959] a documentary dealing with Red China, the odors were added as an afterthought.
The dispensing systems are different. In Smell-O-Vision, developed by the Swiss-born Hans Laube, the odors are piped via plastic tubing – a mile of tubing at Chicago’s Cinestage Theatre – to individual seats, the scents being triggered automatically by signals on the film’s soundtrack. The Aromarama smells are conveyed through the theatre’s regular air ventilating system. The Smell-O-Vision odors are more distinct and recognizable and do not appear to linger as long as those in Aromarama.
Reaction of those at the Smell-O-Vision premiere was mixed. Of those queried, not all claimed to have whiffed the some 30 olfactions said to have been distributed during the course of the film. A number of balcony smellers said the aroma reached them a few seconds after the action on the screen. Other balcony dwellers said they heard a hissing sound that tipped off the arrival of a smell. Among the smells that clicked were those involving flowers, the perfume of the mystery girl in the film, tobacco, orange, shoe polish, port wine (when a man is crushed to death by falling casks), baked bread, coffee, lavender, and peppermint.
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Utilizing the 70 mm Todd Process, a similar but technically different process, from Todd-AO, the picture – with or without the smells – is a fun picture, expertly directed by Jack Cardiff. It has many elements that are derivative of a Hitchcock chase film, the late Mike Todd’s Around the World in Eighty Days, and the Cinerama travelog technique.
It wanders all over the Spanish landscape, covering fiestas, the running of the bulls ceremony, native dances, street scenes of Spanish cities and towns. The travelog is neatly integrated as part of the chase as Denholm Elliott, as a very proper Englishman on Spanish holiday, plays a sort of Don Quixote character who boldly stumbles through the cities and countryside as a self-appointed protector of a damsel in distress. He is accompanied by a philosophical taxi driver, neatly portrayed by Peter Lorre. Paul Lukas is properly sinister as a mysterious hired assassin.
Cardiff has wisely directed the film with a tongue-in-cheek quality. Diana Dors is seen briefly (time and costume) on a Spanish beach and Elizabeth Taylor is present at the denouement in a non-speaking role. Although smell plays an important part in Elliott’s uncovering of the villain, the audience need not necessarily be involved in the odor – the recognition of a man’s tobacco.