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CD: Scent of Mystery (1960)
Review Rating:   Excellent
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September 8 , 2008

Tracks / Album Length:

14 tracks / (35:37)



Mario Nascimbene, Jordan Ramin (and lyrics by Harold Adamson)


Special Notes:

12-page colour booklet with liner notes by CD producer Bruce Kimmel / limited to 1000 copies

Comments :    

Long a top collectible LP, Kritzerland's limited CD rescues a very rare Mario Nascimbene score from oblivion, as well as providing some details on an even more rare film – the first and only movie presented in the branded Smell-O-Vision process - which ran for a few weeks in NYC and disappeared for several decades, popping up now and then (in print) as a footnote in film books, as well as achieving some notoriety in the Medved brothers' Golden Turkey Awards book (housed in the ‘most unwanted technical innovation in film history' chapter, only to lose out to William Castle's Percepto, if memory serves correct).

Scent of Mystery was Mike Todd, Jr,'s effort to follow in Sr.'s grand coattails as a motion picture showman, after dad had shepherded This Is Cinerama (1952) as the film that inaugurated the widescreen film revolution in the fifties. When Sr. left/was ousted from Cinerama, he brought out the rival widescreen format Todd-AO, and produced the comedy travelogue Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

Like 80 Days , the elements within Scent of Mystery included comedy, romance, a bit of mystery, and a huge widescreen panorama, this time in 70mm, which, alongside 65mm, was slowly pushing the original 3-panel Cinerama process into obsolescence. Directed by famed Technicolor cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes), Scent was reportedly imbued with the elegant, expansive, colour-saturated imagery not only of Cinerama's bread and butter product – the travelogue – but Cardiff's own early Technicolor travelogue shorts from the forties.

If one forgets Scent 's smelly origins – the only feature film shown in theatres equipped with pipes that poured out 30 (!) separate scents – it's actually easy to revel in Nascimbene's gorgeous music which, like Victor Young's 80 Days score, nails every major story element.

Kritzerland reproduces the contents of the original Ramrod LP release (meaning the selections clock in just a hair over 35 mins, and each LP side begins with a theme recap), but the cues provide a good sampling of the film's fluffy tone and lofty narrative, as well as Nascimbene's skill at thematic diversity, and writing in a light orchestral pop-jazz style.

Known for grand Roman adventure dramas (Carthage in Flames), over-wrought melodramas (The Barefoot Contessa), and fiddling with electronic and concrete sounds in more striking works (Barabbas, and One Million Years B.C.), Scent is anchored around two main themes that, unlike some of the composer's prior soundtrack albums, are not repeated almost verbatim (a common and sometimes grating problem).

The “Overture,” for example, is a stereophonic tease with inaugural panning effects applied to passing cars and honking horns; the latter group is actually integrated into the main theme to punctuate the intro melodic sections. Nascimbene propels the ‘Chase' theme with jazzy cymbal hits, low woodwinds, and lovely flourishes on flutes and brass, and elegant harmonic swells on strings and low brass. (“The Chase,” the second album recap, sticks with the sparse instrumentation, and prolongs the use of the car horns in more harsh, comedic terms.)

A march functions as a bridge for the film's second theme (‘Scent of Mystery'), presented in a big orchestral cha-cha version with separate banks of brass and strings conversing over light percussion, before a grand orchestral finale.

The film's main title track is “Butterfly,” an extraordinary arrangement of the main theme wherein clarinets perform an almost free-form theme version supported by airy, sometimes barely perceptible strings. Apparently meant to underscore the tracking of a butterfly in 70mm, the cue is also a bit gimmicky for panning the clarinets left-to-right, and the brief intro and fadeout of a source chant.

“Organ Accident” is one of the album's best cues, and typifies the score's lofty sense of humour: very intimate use of woodwinds (oboe and flutes, solo xylophone, male whistlers, and a few cartoonish effects tied to a sauntering beat). Perhaps because of the film's comedic shifts and specific visuals, the cues also change gears at sudden turns, which, in “Medley,” has the whistlers replaced by a Spanish element, conveyed through thick string textures.

“Diana Dors Blues” is a period cocktail jazz theme for the busty British bombshell, with muted trumpet emphasizing a raw sultry quality, and busy background woodwinds goosing the sex factor (which must have already been quite robust in 70mm). It's a short cue (just over 1:40) but it provides some thematic variety, alongside some source cues, like the Spanish flamenco “Guadix Guitar,” a mono recording performed by street musicians tweaked in vintage pseudo-stereo.

The album's more overt commercial tracks are Eddie Fisher's vocal versions of Nascimbene's two themes, beginning with side “Scent of Mystery,” with mushy lyrics set to a pop-rockabilly rhythm, trilling strings, electric guitar, and bah-bah-ing male chorus.

“The Chase” is more poppish, and contains the dopey chorus “DON'T GO! Wait. Stop.” with even less memorable lyrics than Fisher's prior vocal. It's a throwaway track, and if anything, one marvels at the rich orchestrations that support perfectly dumb lyrics. The harmonics are lovely, the strings and resonating chimes atmospheric, but one feels the tune is better suited for some toy commercial for a choo-choo train or Tonka toy.

CD Producer Bruce Kimmel provides excellent liner notes that recap the film's raison d'etre (it cannot be denied!) as well as its sad disappearance from distribution, which seems common to more ignoble 70mm productions that are further decaying in some vault or garage. Kimmel also adds his own personal memories of seeing the film on the big screen before it was pulled from its reserved engagement, and later sold to Cinerama, who chopped up the film to suit its 3-panel format, and released Todd's dud as Holiday in Spain – a move that perhaps foreshadowed the company's inevitable shift to dramatic narratives like The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), and How the West Was Won (1962)

The CD booklet also includes gorgeous original campaign art, and a montage of the original 30 smells that according to Kimmel did not coalesce into one big poo cloud by the time Fisher crooned the end credit tune.

A lovely, sometimes kitschy album that pays tribute to a strange cinematic and olfactible vision.


© 2008 Mark R. Hasan

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