Archive for April 9, 2011

The smell of Peter Lorre

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on April 9, 2011 by dcairns

Today Shadowplay makes history by becoming the world’s first film blog to be presented in Smell-o-Vision. Simply download your scratch-n-sniff cards and deploy them whenever you see an onscreen number, as above.

Number 16: Peter Lorre defecates bitterly.

Image from SCENT OF MYSTERY, directed (I kid you not) by Jack Cardiff, and starring (I still kid you not) Denholm Elliott. Elliott’s surprise casting came after a nationwide search to uncover England’s most fragrant leading man. Essences were extracted from Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Anthony Steele and Richard Todd, among others, and subjected to a battery of tests. Elliott’s manly musk, a blend of hair-oil, fortified wine and semen, was eventually deemed the most winning, and the rejected perfumes were blended together and smeared on Kenneth More, but to no effect.

Cardiff, a genius as cinematographer and a part-time imbecile as director (a few triumphs are stacked alongside misguided lunacies like the rather adorable GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE, and the downright hateful THE MUTATIONS), writes in his autobiography Magic Hour ~

“I had long felt that films could benefit from the pervasive influence of small. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World had the ‘feelies’ whereby the audience turned metal knobs on their seats to relish kissing and other erogenous sensations. So when Michael Todd junior offered me a film which would be ‘the first smellie’, I was delighted.”

Cardiff goes on to recount the story of the film’s production, amid “the glorious vistas of Spain,” presumably deemed the most enjoyably odorific nation. From Peter Lorre’s near-death from a blockage of the arteries (relieved by blood-letting), to the first sample scents arriving from Professor Laube of Switzerland, all of which smelled “like cheap cologne”, the movie did not go altogether smoothly ~

“Our big night duly 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 70 mm film, there was an extra track carrying the smell signal.”

The movie begins… the vast apparatus of perfumery works like a charm… and each carefully chosen scent smelled identical, like cheap cologne.

To crown it all, a B-movie sneaked out in New York with incense in the air conditioning, advertised as “the first smellie”, thereby stealing SCENT OF MYSTERY’s olfactory thunder. Of course, a mass release system makes far more sense, since the intent is to make everybody smell the same thing at the same time. I guess the elaborate system used for SCENT (Todd-PU?) would allow for a more rapid changeover of pongs, but at what cost? The colossal infrastructure necessary to deliver the smells makes William Castle’s Percepto seem downright practical.

What I still haven’t decided is whether I should actually SEE the damn film. I can’t smell it — original scratch-n-sniff cards (the medium used for the movie’s subsequent screenings — being hard to come by. Although I guess I could just spray myself in the face with cheap cologne whenever I see a number. Has anybody had the experience, and is the film itself enjoyably bad?