Jack Cardiff about "Scent
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The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Recorded
in 1986, in reply to Miss Tammy
Burnstock, Writer & Producer, Australia. Retyped for in70mm.com
by Anders M Olsson
Cardiff in Bradford, 2004 signing autographs during The Wide Screen Weekend.
Image by Thomas Hauerslev
Hello Miss Burnstock. By some ironic fate you have chosen a subject, the
film I directed:
"Scent of Mystery", which is the one film I want to
erase from my memory. The reason for this is that, through no fault of
my own, the film was a complete disaster.
It was a great idea in the beginning, and using smells in a film was
also an ambition I had had for years. Shooting the film was exciting and we
were all convinced we had a great movie. Shooting all over Spain- it was
great stuff. Then about half way through I said to
Mike Todd Jr.,
who was of course the Producer, over a lunch, "I suppose you have smelt
some of the effects from Hans Laube, some samples for instance?" "As a
matter of fact" said Michael, "I haven't. I guess we should send for
some samples shouldn't we." So he wrote to Hans Laube in Switzerland,
and some weeks after we received a small box with samples of various
smells which were important to the picture, like tobacco, the sea,
apricots, things like that. And we opened each glass vial and sniffed.
Well it's hard to believe but each labelled glass smelled exactly the
same as the others- like a very cheap eau de cologne.
Well I'll try to remember as much as I can to answer some of your
questions, but it is a long time ago- it's twenty six years ago, isn't
How did I come to direct 'Scent of Mystery'? Well, I had quite a success
on a previous film, "Sons and Lovers", and I suppose the natural thing...
I had met
Mike Todd's father who died, as you know, in a tragic air
accident. And he had wanted me to direct "Don Quixote". But nothing
finally came of it because he died soon after that. But I was
automatically chosen for 'Scent of Mystery'. As I say, I was very
pleased because it was something that had interested me for years- and I
still have an interest in it. But it was such a sad thing that the film
was made... as integral part of the film was of course the use of
smells, and it didn't come off because the smells were nothing, they
were a fake.
What happened... When we finished the picture, as you can imagine, I was
a bit worried, and I think Mike Todd was too- that what we'd smelt so
far was just very cheap perfume and no difference in them. But what
happened was we shot it in wide film, very wide film: six five, and as
well as the sound track on the side of the film, there was a special
narrow track which was like a cue guide for when a smell was expected on
the screen. And it was quite an extraordinary set up. We went for a
first running to Chicago- a big Cinema in Chicago where they had
prepared for the first running. And they had fixed a huge vat or series
of vats with various smells in them underneath the theatre, and there
were pipes, small pipes, running to every seat in the audience, which is
quite a feat. And what happened was that the pipes would be run up the
back of each seat so that the person behind you would get the whiff of a
smell as it was injected into the pipes, as the track- the smell track-
gave off a signal, a cue. So it would release the smell which would go
through the pipes and took so many seconds, and it worked very well:
exactly on cue you'd get the whiff of the smell coming up from the seat
in front of you, so you'd smell it.
|More in 70mm reading:|
MP3: Listen to Jack
Cardiff's voice, when he read this article in 1986
Scent of Mystery lives again!
A Brief History about Hans Laube
Letters and Dust Devils
My father never really
talked about the motion picture business
Oliver Michael Todd in
Mike Todd, Jr.
Mike Todd Jr.'s "Scent of
Mystery" in Smell-O-Vision
Working for Michael
"Scent of Mystery"
in 3 minutes and 49
Cardiff in Bradford, 2004. Jack loved to talk about "The African Queen" and
many were eager listeners to his stories. Jack with admires Sheldon Hall and
Thomas Hauerslev in the middle. Image by Mark Lyndon
The technical part was excellent but when we ran the film in Chicago
(laughs) for the press and everybody, they all said the same thing:
there is no particular smell about anything. It was all a kind of cheap
eau de cologne. This was a disaster. And then later on we ran it in
New York, and that was the end of that because it had terrible notices
because it was not a genuine Smell-O-Vision at all. It was a very
interesting story with a marvellous photographic background of Spain,
but the smell, for which it was made, didn't exist.
The storyline of "Scent of Mystery" - it would take a long time to sort of
gather it up, but it was a kind of hunt for some particular woman in the
story, and as Elizabeth Taylor, being the wife of Michael Todd who had
died, had a kind of supervising interest in the company, she agreed to
appear at the very end of the story as the mystery woman. Which we did.
And we shot her... I think it was only one days shooting. I'd taken her
out to dinner the night before and she was very charming, and as I say
it was all very promising as a subject matter, but it simply didn't work
out without the smells of course.
Yes, the film was written specifically for Smell-O-Vision in the sense
that each dramatic point was woven into the actual presence of a smell.
And funnily enough I had thought of a Whodunnit before the film was
made, years before. I had thought how interesting it would be to have a
Whodunnit film where if the murderer... we knew the murderer smoked a
certain type of tobacco. If you were in a room which was empty, and if
you smelt the smell of tobacco coming in, you'd know that the murderer
would be coming into the room. It's as simple as that. And in fact on
"Scent of Mystery" we did have- I assume that you have seen the film- that
that was a kind of climax: the smell of tobacco (laughs). If one had
smelt the tobacco. It was written specifically for these effects.
We had so many scents that were supposed to be, but it's difficult to
remember... when you say "can you tell me about some of the scents
incorporated?" As I say there were no scents that came up because of
this phony gentleman that didn't provide the scents. But we had all
kinds of scents. Tobacco was a strong one, and the sea was supposed to
be a strong one, and lots of different perfumes that came through, and
there was one sequence where there was a fight in the ladies bedroom and
they threw things at each other. All kinds of things like perfume
bottles and talc powder and things, and as they hit people you'd smell
the scents. And that would have been a very good... all this is 'would
have been' if only the smells had worked out.
Cardiff and Herbert Lom in Bradford, 2004. Image Thomas Hauerslev
I found working with Michael Todd Jnr very well. He was very earnest and
eager to learn all he can, and he had a very... he had his father's
business acumen. And we did some very good shots with him.
I never met Hans Laube. And I know nothing about him at all. He
disappeared from all knowledge when the film was finished. I don't know
whether Michael Todd tried to sue him or not, or whether he just took it
on the chin. There were all kinds of rumours about the film afterwards.
A very funny thing happened. Of course the hero in the picture was
Denholm Elliott. And when the film... before the film was made we were
casting the film, and Michael was asking who did I think could play the
part of this young man, and I said that I knew a man who was not a star
but he was a very brilliant impersonator, and his name was Peter
Sellers. Of course he'd been unknown at that time, absolutely unknown,
and I took Peter Sellers to lunch at the Dorchester to meet Michael
Todd. And we went, actually upstairs to Michael Todd's room. And then we
went down to lunch. Now, like a lot of great comedians, when you meet
them in real life they're not at all funny, they're very serious people.
And Peter Sellers was shy and very serious. And we had lunch and after
he'd gone Michael Todd Jnr said "I don't think much of him, he's not a
bit funny." And we didn't have him. And years later I had a letter from
Michael Todd saying if only he'd taken my advice what a different story
it might have been. It's very interesting because Peter Sellers, of
course, became very famous.
I can tell you one thing that happened during the picture which was not
at all pleasant. We were about two thirds through the picture and apart
from Denholm Elliott there was Peter Lorre whom you might remember. He
was quite famous and he was a very fat man with big rolled eyes, wide
staring eyes, with this German or Viennese accent. He played the cab
driver, and as I say, towards two thirds of the picture I went out to
dinner and half way through dinner my assistant, the assistant director,
came up to me, found me in the restaurant and said "Jack. Peter Lorre is
dying." And that of course was a shock. And I went round to his hotel
and there were a lot of doctors round the bed, all shaking their heads
saying they gave him about an hour - no more - and then he would be
dead. And Peter was lying on his back on a kind of rather hard bed in
the centre of the room, breathing in the most dreadful manner, in sort
of spasmodic jerks- sort of (imitates) like that. And he was rather...
he reminded me of a toad, a big toad. And his breasts were going up and
down in a terrible uneven way, and obviously they didn't see much hope
for him. And it was in the town of Cordoba which was a town which was
renowned for surgeons- they had all these surgeons around the bed. And
one of them suggested that they resorted as a last gamble on the old
fashioned Letting of blood principle. And this they did. They cut an
artery and... or they cut a vein and let off a lot of blood, and in some
incredible way it worked. It quieted him down and he was sort of... he
was breathing a bit easier, and that was about ten o'clock at night. And
then about um... as we stayed up all night looking at him. About three
or four in the morning he started to talk in French, and by five in the
morning he was conscious. Well, the doctors said that he would live but
of course he mustn't do any exercise and must be very careful: he could
only walk very slowly. And at that time, at that part of the movie he
had to be running, running around the cliffs and down paths and
everything, so we had to have a double.
And we advertised all over Madrid for a perfect double, and amazingly
enough we found one; we found someone who looked exactly like Peter
Lorre. And he did all the running in the picture, and then when it came
to the end of it and he had to stand still and speak, we put in Peter,
the real Peter Lorre. But it was touch and go, because if we'd lost him
we would have had to start the picture virtually all over again.
About five years ago the film came to London having been revised a
little bit, but not much. And of course it was showing in London, the
Coliseum, without any smells at all, it just had music. And it was sad
because it was... made to incorporate smells and there were no smells at
all, so it was just like a very old any film. And I was very sorry about
it, very bitter with the people... the man who had caused all this
tragedy. And that was that. It has run all over the world in odd places,
but it was nothing like the success it should have been.
Cardiff and Herbert Lom in Bradford, 2004 being interviewed by Head of Film,
Bill Lawrence. Image Thomas Hauerslev
I forgot to mention that the final rubbing of salt in the wound was,
when the film was released in New York- when it came out, had its
premiere in New York, I forget who it was... Some enterprising company
had installed one or two smells in the circuit, the cooling circuit in
the theatre and they called their film the first authentic Smellie.
Which was existing just a few days before our film came out, so that was
rather sad too. But that had a lot of advert... and of course it worked
in the sense that one or two smells put into the air vents would smell
and people would associate it with the ideas of the first Smellie.
I remember many years ago before this whole thing came up... I think one
of the reasons I was interested in smells in films was that I had been
to a show, a theatre show in London and they had had a kind of Turkish
scene or Eastern scene with a Harem or something like that, and over the
stage effects they'd released a lot of incense, and it had a powerful
effect on me, to see these people in an eastern setting with the smell
of incense, and I always felt from then on that it had a future.
Frankly I think it has a future today. I think sooner or later someone
will get around to doing it properly. Of course one of the drawbacks
with the whole idea, if you say something about a Smell-o-vision, the
listener frequently giggles and says "Oh, what about if you... what
happens if you made a film with a lavatory in it." And it's nonsense
because you don't have to do that. Just like you don't have to show a
lavatory visually on the film- it's not important.
But there's a lot of prejudice against smells in the theatre simply
because they think of horrid smells, they think of all sorts of ugly
smells. As I say I think there is a future: when it will come I don't
know. I hope it will come soon because I would be interested in doing it
Well, that's all the things I can think of to tell you and I wish you
the best of luck on your paper. And I would like to have heard it.
Anyway, as I say, all the very best of luck to you.
Listen to Jack Cardiff's
voice, when he read this article in 1986
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