(director: Jack Cardiff; screenwriters: William Roos/Gerald Kersh/based on the novel Ghost of a Chance by Kelley Roos; cinematographer: John Von Kotze; editors: James Newcom/Frank Baldridge; music: Mario Nascimbene; cast:  Denholm Elliott ( Oliver Larker), Paul Lukas (Baron Saradin), Peter Lorre (Smiley), Beverly Bentley (The Decoy Sally), Liam Redmond (Johnny Gin), Leo McKern (Tommy Kennedy), Diana Dors (Miss Jordan), Peter Arne (Richard Fleming), Michael Trubshawe (English Aviator), Elizabeth Taylor (Sally Kennedy, the real one), Billie Miller (Constance Walker), Mary Laura Wood (Margharita Kennedy), Juan Olaguivel (Lorry operator), Maurice Marsac (Pepi, Shopkeeper), Judith Furse (Miss Leonard, the artist); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mike Todd Jr.; Michael Todd Jr Filmography; 1960)

“It stinks, but only from the perfume it releases in the theater.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s a travelogue mystery film that’s good despite being bad; it stinks, but only from the perfume it releases in the theater. The title is derived from the name of a perfume used in the movie, that plays a large part in the plot. It’s worth checking out for its gimmicky novelty of introducing smells into the theater, great photography and a twist ending.

It gave us cinema’s first film that releases smells in the theater, in a process called Smell-O-Vision. It was a technique invented by Dr. Hans Laube, a Swiss scientist. The ‘special format’ created is a system of ducts and fans that injects odors into the theater auditoriums before quickly getting rid of the smells.

The Broadway producer Mike Todd saw it demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and the flamboyant Todd vowed to bring it to Hollywood one day, but died in a plane crash in 1958 just before he could fulfill his promise. Todd was married to Elizabeth Taylor at the time. When his son Mike Todd, Jr.,  following in dad’s showman footsteps, decided to use the smell process in the first picture he was producing,  he also gave Elizabeth Taylor a cameo while her next husband Eddie Fisher sang the background vocals.

For the son’s version, the smell devices were now attached to the back of the theater seats. Some of the following 30 smells were used for the film included: roses, peach, pipe tobacco, perfume, a wine smell from a wine cask falling off a wagon and cracking open, peppermint, gunpowder, shoe polish, coffee, gasoline, and “the dusty cement odor of rubble.” All the smells released would follow along with the appropriate points of the story.

It was also noted as the first 70mm widescreen process of the decade.

When first released (in three specially equipped theaters in NYC, LA and Chicago) it was titled Scent of Mystery, but quickly disappeared from the theaters. The son released it 2 years later without smells and retitled it Holiday in Spain. He also cut the running time from its previous 125 minutes with an intermission, to 75 minutes, and it did a reasonably good box-office playing in only Cinerama theaters.

The former cinematographer Jack Cardiff (“Young Cassidy”/”Sons and Lovers”) directs the lighthearted thriller by offering lots of action and movement, decent comic moments and fabulous location shots of Spain (such as the fiesta in Seville, gypsy dances in the country, castles, a vista of the stunning stone mountain gorge and the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona).

It’s based on the 1947 novel Ghost of a Chance by Kelley Roos (Audrey Kelley, real name) and is written by her husband William Roos and Gerald Kersh.
It’s ostensibly about a compulsive novelist suffering from writer’s block, who is sent by his publisher on a vacation to relax. The umbrella carrying stereotypical Englishman, Oliver (Denholm Elliott), tours Spain. After harassed by a local children’s band he is rescued by the kindly but mercenary cab driver Smiley (Peter Lorre), and he hires him to tour Spain with. As the touristy vacation turns into a James Bond adventure, the cabby reluctantly becomes Sancho Panza to Oliver’s Don Quixote.

When a brutish contract killer lorry driver (Juan Olaguivel) nearly kills a beautiful woman, the eyewitness is an unreliable drunken Irishman by the name of Johnny Gin (Liam Redmond). He is ordered killed by the ruthless Baron Saradin (Paul Lukas), a friend of a hotel owner’s wife, Margharita Kennedy (Mary Laura Wood), who is related to the well-dressed lady nearly killed. After the drunk won’t stop looking for the woman in peril, the Baron orders the lorry driver to kill him by releasing his wine kegs from a wagon to crush him.

Oliver believes the drifter and tracks down the woman, Sally Kennedy (Beverly Bentley), and acts as her protector. An American lawyer, Richard Fleming (Peter Arne) also meets with Sally to be her protector and tell her that her aunt has left her a three million dollar inheritance that she will collect if alive for a few more days on her next birthday. If not, her half-brother Tom Kennedy (Leo McKern), the hotel owner in Spain, married to Margharita, would get the inheritance.

The cabby and novelist ride all over Spain following Sally, and are nearly killed on a few occasions by the bad guys. But Oliver is determined to save the pretty woman. How he does so and a few other surprises are laid on us before we see that the wartime pilot, who earned the name ‘Lucky’ Larkin,  is still blessed with luck.

It works well as a curio film, one that has some funny moments and is more than just watchable for its stunning visuals. There are shortcomings, like not everything about the plot adds up. But it’s a trip catching Lorre make with his quips to a rigid Elliott, who aims to persevere no matter the circumstances

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed viewing it at home, even without the smells.