Liz Taylor with Mike Todd, her third husband, for whose son she filmed ‘Scent of Mystery’ in Malaga :: STR/EFE
It is one of those scenes that is often talked about but which nobody (well, almost nobody) has ever seen. Liz Taylor looking out over Malaga from the Gibralfaro castle. It is not a myth. The frames from ‘Scent of mystery’ exist, although they were lost. And almost destroyed, something that nobody could have foreseen when it was filmed in Malaga in 1959. This film was not lacking in resources. In fact, you could say that money was lavished upon it because its producer, Mike Todd Jr., not only bought a novel system called Smell-O-Vision, which created a film with scent, he also filmed with 70mm negative, which was double the normal, and contracted Liz Taylor to take part. But the only smell that came from this film was one of failure. After its debut received stinking reviews, it was taken back to the drawing board and then relaunched under the title of ‘Holiday in Spain’ (1961), with the added attraction of cinerama format to make the most of its luxury frames. However, this second version also faded into oblivion until recently, when it was subjected to a process of digital surgery which has allowed it to recover its Technicolour splendour. These frames will be seen at the 17th Spanish Film Festival in Malaga later this month, when the film will be shown to commemorate 55 years since it was made.
“A lot of the original material was lost and when we managed to locate two negatives and a soundtrack we discovered that they had not been properly preserved and they were badly damaged,” explains director Dave Strohmaier who, together with Randy Gitsch, has recovered the complete footage of ‘Holiday in Spain’ for Cinerama thanks to pioneering software. The American restorer, who will present the film on 26th March at the Albéniz cinema, says that a version of the original footage of ‘Scent of mystery’ is still preserved in the offices of Todd-AO in Hollywood, but that time has faded the colours of the image and that there are no longer any systems that can reproduce the sound.
The ‘Holiday in Spain’ version cut twelve minutes from the original film, making it 109 minutes long and leaving the many Spanish scenes from Malaga to Pamplona, passing through Ronda, Pizarra, Torremolinos, Cordoba, Seville and Segovia. Strohmaier, who was the director of the ‘Cinerama Adventure’ documentary (2002), says the storyline in both versions is the same: the search for a woman in a gauzy blue dress, large hat and mysterious perfume by an Englishman who had come to Malaga on holiday and also a gang of criminals. And in both versions, this girl was the same: Liz Taylor, who allowed herself to be persuaded to take part by producer Mike Todd Jr because he was the son of her former husband, the only one she didn’t divorce because he died a year before this film was made.
A controversial courtship
The story of the film revolves around the character of the actress with violet eyes, but the appearance of the actress on the screen was limited to the scene filmed at the Gibralfaro castle. It did not go unnoticed, however, and nor did the visit she made to the production headquarters in Malaga with her new husband, singer Eddie Fisher. They paraded their romance throughout the Costa del Sol, filling pages and pages in the world’s newspapers because the singer had left his previous wife, actress Debbie Reynolds, for one of her best friends: Liz Taylor. They went for dinner in the most fashionable venue of that summer of 1959, El Mañana de Torremolinos nightclub, and went to see a bullfight although it didn’t appear to be much to Eddie Fisher’s liking.
The same could be said of those who went to enjoy the unique experience of the fragranced ‘Scent of mystery’ film. This was going to be revolutionary. In fact, the poster for the film announced that “First they moved, then they talked, and now they smell”.
But, as the director of the film, Jack Cardiff, admitted, the system had not been perfected and the mysterious scent of the leading lady mixed first with the smell of the criminal’s tobacco and then the results of some barrels of Malaga wine exploding... nobody had ever foreseen that the atmosphere inside the cimena would become unbearable and that something which had been advertised as a scented revolution would end up being a failure that reeked of charred wood.