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Visit biografmuseet.dk about Danish cinemas


"Scent of Mystery"
After thoughts about the film

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Marvin Walowitz, Hollywood, USA Date: 6 March 2005
I did not work on it ["Scent of Mystery"]. My connections are just two. I was working (about 1959) on the same lot as Todd-AO at the time (the old Chaplin studio), and I would drop in on the dubbing stage when I had time, and would observe the mixing (or really pre-dubbing). Some years later (about 1966), I bought a batch of 17.5mm mag rolls from someone who worked at Todd-AO sound (they had moved to Seward St.). These were the original production recordings for "Scent of Mystery".

My only other connection was that I knew some of the editors who worked on it and heard what they had to say about it.

Strangely enough, there was little or no looping on the film. The 70mm camera was not blimped, so the original takes have the camera grinding throughout (at least in the location shots, I don't remember if that was so for the interiors. I do remember that the takes for interior shots that I heard were obviously on location and had very noisy backgrounds and poor acoustics. Those may have actually been looped.). The technique used for the exterior shots was after a print take, the cast would run thru the dialog a couple of times for the sound recordist only. Having heard both the original takes and the matching wild tracks (another story there), the recreations were pretty damned close to the original performances made just a few minutes earlier. While doing the wild tracks, in at least one take the actors also moved around the set as they did during the takes. If the synch was a bit rubbery, chalk it up to the editorial standards of the time and the skill of the cutting crew.

The problem was that the post-production sound crew was working to an "ancient" standard of what constituted "quality". Their experience was almost completely mono films, done quickly. The demands of a very large screen and multi-channel audio did not change the way they worked. They had no idea as to how to do what they did any differently for a film with the scope of "Scent of Mystery". The bulk of the sound FX were from mono optical sources, except for a shoot with the old cars (most of which I put in Gordie Ecker's library, when I worked for him.) and some terrific rifle shots. All this was shot mono. They did a sound shoot in Pampalona (during prodcution, I think) of the bull run with two 1/4" tape decks set a fair distance apart. I believe that they intended to create a stereo image, but I don't think it worked. (The decks ran at slightly different speeds, there was no synch pulse and the cutting crew did not have the techniques or skill to make it work.) Like "The Bible", a few years later, the only true stereo material used was the music (unless I am wrong about the Pampalona stuff). There was, to my knowledge, no other stereo attempted during production.
Further in 70mm reading:

Mike Todd, Jr. Interview

Scent of Mystery

2004 screening

Internet link:

I hung around the dub stage during a lot of the mix (I was working on the old Chaplin lot at the time) and most of the time spent predubbing was for panning dialog and fx -- 4 tracks at a time, a limitation of the number of pan-pots on the panel. It was an extremely unhurried mix, much time was taken up with Murray Spivak telling his drummer stories. The ready light was often on for half a hour before they would rehearse (again) a few pans. The was obviously budget for mix time -- unless Todd-AO sound was investing in the dub. As my dubbing experience up to that time was in the Roger Corman school of a reel per hour, the tempo of the "Scent of Mystery" mix was quite shocking to me. Almost scandalous!

The film did not run very long in release. Watching the film, it is fairly obvious where the smells were released. It did not work very well. The odors were piped down tubes behind the seats, The time it took the gas to reach seats around the auditorium was unpredictable, so synchronization was usually way off. And the worst part was that people went home and complained that their socka and shoes stunk to high heaven with the combined effect of all the scents absorbed into one. That must have been some stink! Lastly, the smells were reputedly not very convincing. I never saw the film finished, and I never saw it with the smells attached, I was only told about it much later by people who were associated with the film. (I don't remember who those people were.)

As for the dynamic range, except for the marching band and the train, I don't remember much that would call for dynamics. But then, that was nearly a half century ago and I was not involved at all in the creation of the soundtrack.

The "other story" is that I bought from Don Tomlinson all the 17.5mm original mag recordings for use as raw stock for transferring all the optical I had to a mag format that would take up less space. (I also got the master surround channels (mono) for either "Oklahoma!" or "Carousel".) Before I reclaimed the mag stock, I did play every damned one of those rolls (several hundred) and pulled out stuff that would be useful for my fx library. Since they were recorded at 45fpm, I had to use the picture side motor to listen when I wanted to hear well what was on the track. Of course, the static from that variable speed motor made it hard to make any real decisions about quality, so I saved a lot of stuff that ended up worthless. John Romness still had a 17.5 machine that ran at 45fpm and when I worked for Gordy, I had a budget on some film that allowed me to hire him to transfer a bunch of it to 35mm. This stuff is now at USC, or rather, as I found out the other day, at the Skywalker Ranch in Ben Burtt's care.
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Updated 21-01-24