The smell of Peter Lorre

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?

19 Responses to “The smell of Peter Lorre”

  1. Well, I’m, speechless, except to say ‘Why???’ Thank you, I’m learning so much from your blog!

  2. I always optimistically assume that the jokes and reality can easily be separated by readers, but since a reader once asked me “Did Amy Adams REALLY shoot a man just to watch him die?” there are clearly some cases where some reassurance might be good. There WAS a film called Scent of Mystery in smell-o-vision involving all those people and the quotes from Jack Cardiff’s book are accurate. Some of the other statements… not so much.

  3. Hoe nice! I’m trying to impose that music over some cheap cologne and shots of Peter Lorre’s stand-in running around Spain… nope, it ain’t working.

  4. Well, I believe this film is real. MTV actually showed it during the 80’s. Don’t know why. Perhaps they were planning to build up to Smell-O-Vision versions of THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME and THE WALL. (shudder)

  5. R.I.P. Sidney Lumet

  6. David Wingrove Says:

    Have still never forgiven Lumet for his disparaging remarks about Cecil B DeMille…but now is not the time to hold a grudge.

    The man was part of film history and made some very fine films – although, arguably, never a great one. If I see THE APPOINTMENT in the right ratio, I might change my mind.

  7. What did he say about DeMille?

    Got a chance to chat with Lumet a few eyars back when the Los Angeles Film Critics Association gave him its “Career Achievement” Award. I told him I knew Dog Day Afternoon with the original cast. He was most amused by what I had to say about Littlejohn. I also told him that Vito Russo told me that Judy Garland didn’t like Hepburn’s performance in Long Day’s Journey Into Night because “she doesn’t get it” re drug addiction.

  8. I think Lumet, in condemning DeMille, talks of vulgarity and generally sides with Hawks, who notoriously looked to DeMille to learn what not to do. For me, DeMille’s trashiness is a saving grace, but he does get increasingly leaden, from the thirties on.

    I get the impression Lumet’s last couple of films were something of a return to form, or at least interest, after a very patchy twenty years. But I admire so much of his work in the fifties, sixties and seventies.

  9. In his later years he was writing his own scripts.

  10. And he’d always worked on the scripts, but perhaps wasn’t strong enough in that department to do it solo. I saw Night Falls on Manhattan and it was perfectly nice except it didn’t take the characters to their limits, which that kind of drama needs to do. And also, Ian Holm, genius actor though he is, seemed a whimsical choice to play a New York cop. And Andy Garcia’s father.

  11. …leaves nothing behind but the fresh scent of pine.

  12. Christopher Says:

    I’m still counting on Computers with Penis’ and Vaginas….any day now I reckon..

  13. That has actually happened, but it didn’t catch on. You could get cyber-genitals for your computer and conduct long-distance sex with a partner online in which every thrust would be faithfully reproduced over the web. It was very expensive and very, very weird — and apparently not satisfying enough to justify the cost and the creep factor.

  14. At a New Beverly screening of Cardiff’s DARK OF THE SUN (a.k.a. THE MERCENARIES), Tarantino introduced the film saying he liked Cardiff best as a director.

    Mind you, DARK OF THE SUN is quite good, but it’s no THE RED SHOES. Seems like the kind of perverse statement a movie geek makes to stand out, whether or not it’s true.

  15. With QT, I fear it may be true. Scorsese likes Dark of the Sun a lot too, but he keeps it in perspective! Cardiff did a good job on Sons and Lovers even though screenwriter Gavin Lambert didn’t think he really understood the material, and several of the other films are perfectly OK. But you can stack them all together and Black Narcissus would blow them out the water with a single sequence.

  16. During the late 1950s I attended a film at the newly renamed DeMille theatre on Times Square, north of 42nd Street, which featured a short film tribute to Cecil B. DeMille and a feature film (forgot the title) which featured Smell-O-Rama, or something similar. Recall that the scents were not convincing, and believe the experiment did not attract much attention

  17. Was it scratch n sniff cards, or an elaborate smell brain like Cardiff’s? I’ve never had the experience, but wouldn’t mind. Although Fiona is always wafting perfumes at me and they all seem the same to my untutored snout.

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