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Holiday in Spain has perhaps the most convoluted 'special format and process' back story of any film ever made. Noted '50s film impresario Michael Todd died in a plane crash after launching the spectacularly successful big-screen format called Todd-AO. It was the first 70mm widescreen process of the decade and saw use in Oklahoma!, Around the World in 80 Days, The Alamo, The Sound of Music, etc. In 1959 Michael Todd Jr. released the 70mm Scent of Mystery with the unlikely gimmick called Smell-O-Vision. Ads actually carried the tagline "First they Moved, Then they Talked -- Now they Smell!", daring critics to agree.
Smell-O-Vision was a gaudy re-titling of "Scentovision", a system of ducts and fans invented by one Dr. Hans Laube to inject odors into theater auditoriums and then quickly evacuate them. Scent of Mystery was certainly equipped for this experience for its New York premiere; it sounds far more difficult to install and monitor than William Castle's seat buzzers of the same year's The Tingler. Scent of Mystery also sported a proprietary eight-track sound system, topping other 70mm Road Shows by two tracks. The New York Times' Bosley Crowther wasn't kind to the film in his February 19, 1960 review, but it's fun to imagine the stuffy film critic trying to deal with various odors coming at him from all directions. He mentions various plot points in Scent of Mystery linked to smells -- perfume, pipe smoke, spilled barrels of wine. Smell-O-Vision was definitely something new, but as the saying goes, audiences stayed away in droves. It's reported that Mike Todd Jr. chose the name because he thought it was funny. There apparently was not a corresponding smell attached to the exciting scene showing the running of the bulls at Pamplona.
Originally 125 minutes long with an intermission, the film quickly dropped out of sight. But it fared much better two years later, when it re-emerged adapted for use in Cinerama theaters with the title Holiday in Spain. Film Effects of Hollywood optically converted the 70mm image to 3-panel Cinerama, a process that sounds like a major headache. The osmological process (look it up) was abandoned. Thanks to the crazy format change, Scent of Mystery is long gone. Holiday in Spain has previously shown up only in a dubious video version running just 75 minutes.
Enter David Strohmaier, the editor and restoration expert who consulted with Warners on the disc release of the 3-Panel Cinerama feature How the West Was Won and went on to restore all of the original Cinerama films, the latest of which are Seven Wonders of the World and Search for Paradise. The amount of research and labor that went into these projects is enormous. Strohmaier pieced Holiday in Spain back together from the barely surviving original negative, bridging gaps with scans from two faded 70mm prints. 1 These prints bore the magnetically striped eight tracks of audio, permitting Strohmaier to engineer a fully-restored multi-channel soundtrack. Strohmaier applied his screen-reshaping "Smilebox" mask to suggest the massive curved screen of Road Show presentations.
Holiday in Spain is not an ordinary film experience. As with Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days the show is a giant-screen travelogue within an adventure storyline. The wisely chosen director is the camera genius Jack Cardiff, who at all times keeps the screen active and the angles interesting. The story is slight and the characterizations almost nil, but now that its visual dimension has been restored, Holiday in Spain is a highly watchable super-curiosity.
The story is a semi-comic, almost casual chase thriller. On holiday in Spain (hmm...) adventure-seeking Briton Oliver Larker (the delightful odd choice Denholm Elliott) becomes aware of a death threat to one Sally Kennedy (Beverly Bentley) and tries to protect her while various sinister agents circle about them. Baron Saradin (Paul Lukas) and his cohort Margharita (Mary Laura Wood) put Oliver onto the wrong path. Drunken Irishman Johnny Gin (Liam Redmond) snoops for the Baron. Beverly's brother, hotel owner Tommy Kennedy (Leo McKern) rudely shoos Oliver away. Serving as Sancho Panza to Oliver's Don Quixote is Smiley (Peter Lorre), a taxi driver willing to do most anything if the meter is running. Beverly denies being in danger until both Oliver and American Robert Fleming (Peter Arne) come to her rescue at the same time. Fleming brings proof that Beverly will soon inherit a huge fortune. Knowing that the greedy Tommy has only a few hours to eliminate Beverly, Robert and Oliver flip a coin to see which of them will watch the bad guys, and which will flee with the 'mystery target'.
Holiday in Spain is fairly diverting for a film that really exists to put pretty scenery on a giant screen. The story frequently steps aside to make way for 70mm eye candy: aerial views of storybook castles, POVs of cars racing through streets, barrels rolling down alleys, and our heroes climbing on rooftops. The filmmakers have seemingly located every vertiginous location in Spain. Apartments, hotels, castles and even gardens are always right next to tall cliffs, usually with no guardrail. The most fantastic location is an impossible-looking gorge where stone catwalks ("El Caminito del Rey") hug tall cliffs and a train line traverses tunnels carved straight through a mountain. Many Americans think this site is in the Italian Alps, because it figures strongly in the popular Frank Sinatra adventure Von Ryan's Express.
Between car chases, our debonair/foolish hero Denholm Elliott can't decide if his character is James Bond or a silly twit like Terry-Thomas. Elliott frequently wears a bemused smirk on his face, as if he sees jokes that we don't. Yet the actor is much more physical than in his later dramas and comedies, like Raiders of the Lost Ark and A Room with a View. Fired upon by a high-powered rifle, Elliott performs some rough-looking stunts tumbling amid the rocks. Peter Lorre's smart-mouthed Smiley is the best thing in the movie. His little bits of improvisation enliven a screenplay that does little more than keep our hero rushing from one scenic place to another. Smiley's beloved cab is stolen and crashed off a cliff, but is eventually recovered, at which time he's delighted to see that the meter is still going. 2
Aging but active Paul Lukas provides some stock menace, as does a young-ish Leo McKern, who was not yet established as the cranky good guy Horace Rumpole. Excellent actor Liam Redmond is a fine drunk, but he only points up the fact that this Spain-set mystery has not a single Spanish character or major actor, or any connection with the local culture. Yet Oliver Larker is forever passing by impromptu flamenco exhibitions, decoratively sprinkled around various scenic locations. It's a travelogue, remember?
Going further down the cast list, Peter Arne serves as a colorless bogus American. Plucked from TV commercials, young Beverly Bentley is perky and runs well on cobblestones wearing medium heels and a poofy 1959 party dress that doesn't even allow her to see her feet. (image above) One scene treats us to Brit bombshell Diana Dors lying on a beach. Unlike Cinerama, conventional 70mm can get right up close to people; on a big screen the abundant Dors must have looked like an entire mountain range of flesh. Even the fuzz on her legs stands out boldly. Ms Dors' lipstick and eye makeup threaten to overwhelm us. As a cameraman, director Jack Cardiff had a reputation for working in tough locations but also for making actresses look their best. It's altogether possible that Dors signed on just to work with him.
Confirmed Anglophiles will lock radar on colorful personalities like Judith Furse and Michael Trubshawe. Ray Harryhausen fans may recognize the thug who assists the Baron in yet another murder attempt on our intrepid hero - he's definitely the wine-loving sailor "Golar" from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The actor goes unbilled in both movies -- could he be named Juan Olaguivel?
Redwind and Strohmaier have made a selling point of Holiday in Spain's 'mystery woman', a surprise star cameo of a very famous personage. Since the disc producers aren't naming her, I won't either. She'd be performing in her own giant 70mm film vehicle in just a year or so.
Like any good Road Show attraction Holiday in Spain comes with a full complement of curtain music, overture, entr'acte, etc. The intermission breaks right in the middle of a fistfight, with a literal cliffhanger. The show shapes up as a novelty film, a light thriller long on visual spectacle. It's certainly one of the most bizarre movies ever made. Although the Scent-O-Vision is no longer present, the movie can still be a guessing game to identify which moments made use of the gimmick.
Redwing Productions' Blu-ray of Holiday in Spain is another amazing restoration showstopper from David Strohmaier. Much of the film has better-than-average color recovered from the original negative. The balance was rescued from the more severely faded projection prints. These actually don't look too bad. It's interesting to see how director Jack Carfiff composes his shots for the giant curved screen. He goes in much tighter than was then usual for big-format films. I would guess that the long-gone Cinerama version must have been really weird, with the flat 70mm image wrapped in a semi-circle, and the panel joins cutting right through people's faces.
An insert booklet reproduces the entire Scent of Mystery Road Show souvenir booklet. The film's original Mario Nascimbene soundtrack is included on a separate Kritzerland CD. It contains tunes sung by Eddie Fisher, who along with the Mike Todd connection should provide all the clues necessary to guess the identity of the mystery cameo actress. Kritzerland record producer Bruce Kimmel oversees the feature commentary, with Dave Strohmaier and actress Sandra Shahan. The enthusiastic Kimmel remembers actually seeing Scent of a Mystery and is almost as informed about the movie than Strohmaier. Ms. Shahan recalls the particulars of the unusual shoot -- she doubles for the mystery woman, sought but never caught by the hero.
Separate video interviews give us the memories of actress Beverly Bentley and Mike Todd's granddaughter Susan Todd. Strohmaier also hosts a lengthy featurette on the film's locations. In addition to extensive galleries -- ad artwork, stills, trailers -- we're shown a few trims deleted from Scent of Mystery and a selection of original dailies, complete with slates. In one close-up stage wait we see Peter Lorre forget to put his cigarette out of sight until the last moment. The final featurette charts Strohmaier's re-assembling of Holiday in Spain from what remained in the vaults. It was a mix 'n' match game of best-possible reels, sections and shots. The original movie had no end credits sequence; patrons were meant to purchase the souvenir booklet as if they were attending a play or an opera. 4
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Holiday in Spain Blu-ray
1. Besides being converted to Cinerama, the re-cut Holiday in Spain was first finished in standalone 70mm for distribution in Europe.
2. At one point someone says "Put a Tiger in Your Tank", a gasoline ad slogan we remember from the middle 1960s. How can it be in place in 1959? Well, because it was, in the U.K. with Esso gas.
4. Two other movies I remember having no on-screen titles or credits: Shirley Clarke's Portrait of Jason and, in its initial release, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. We were given little black credits pamphlets for that one.
The version of this review on the Savant main site has additional images, footnotes and credits information, and may be updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.