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A Tale of Old Whiff

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by:  F Gwynplaine MacIntyre, Minffordd, North Wales Date: 15. April 2007
"Scent of Mystery" is notorious as the film that (literally) had a smell. Filmed in Smell-O-Vision, it bombarded the audience with aromas. Concealed dispensers sprayed the cinema with concentrated essence, on cue, then sprayed a neutraliser to remove the scent before the next spray was dispensed. As with 3-D movies, Smell-O-Vision had a tendency to rub the audiences' noses (literally) in the gimmickry. Actors in "Scent of Mystery" keep commenting on the various odours they detect, and there are lots of close-ups of freshly-baked bread or garlic cloves or some other pungent substance being shoved towards the camera for our olfactory inspection. But very few cinema managers were willing to spend money to instal the unwieldy Smell-O-Vision system, so most audiences saw "Scent of Mystery" without its odours. Smell-O-Vision was the brainchild of producer Mike Todd, bankroller of the Todd-AO sound recording process; after his death in a plane crash, "Scent of Mystery" was brought to completion by his son Mike Todd Jr.

Less well-remembered than "Scent of Mystery" is the short subject that was released with it: "Old Whiff", also punningly known as "A Tale of Old Whiff". (Old Whiff is a dog, and this is his TALE ... geddit?) Conceived by Mike Todd Snr as an experimental prototype for the Smell-O-Vision process, "Old Whiff" is the only cartoon in the history of animation that LITERALLY stank up the movie houses. "Old Whiff" is also historically significant as the first cartoon filmed in 70mm.

Bert Lahr does hilarious work as the voice of Old Whiff, a cartoon bloodhound searching for a museum's lost dinosaur bone worth $100,000 ... but whose search is hampered by the fact that he has lost his sense of smell. While the bloodhound meanders through this cartoon, muttering to himself in Bert Lahr's distinctive voice, we see various items which Old Whiff encounters ... including a hot dog, mustard, soap, soup, chocolate, violets, pine trees, a field of clover and a horse. We also SMELL those objects; at least we smell them if the Smell-O-Vision process is working properly. But poor Old Whiff can't smell anything.

Part of an "Scent of Mystery" advert with reference to "The Tale of Old Whiff".

"Old Whiff"
was produced by Nathan Zucker, directed by Alan Zaslove, written by Leo Salkin and animated by innovative animator John Hubley, who also created Mr Magoo ... and this cartoon has UPA-style graphics very similar to Hubley's best-known films. Bert Lahr is perfectly suited to play a mournful bloodhound. My only complaint is that Old Whiff sounds rather too much like the Cowardly Lion. Lahr apparently decided to recycle the vocal crotchets of his most famous characterisation, instead of inventing an entirely new character. Also, this cartoon's villain (designed by Hubley) looks almost exactly like Boris Badenov from the Bullwinkle cartoons ... although actually "Old Whiff" had its cinema premiere before the Bullwinkle cartoons were transmitted.

I saw "A Tale of Old Whiff" WITHOUT the Smell-O-Vision apparatus ... an absence which diminishes the effect of this film, as we're meant to be able to smell all the items that Old Whiff doesn't notice. Still this is an excellent and innovative cartoon ... not especially funny, but charming and imaginative. I wish that it were widely available, even without the Smell-O-Vision.

If John Waters does a modern remake of "The Tale of Old Whiff" (filmed in Odorama), you can guess what sort of aromas the dog would be sticking his nose into. Fortunately, this cartoon confines itself to smells that a human audience would enjoy.

I'll rate "Old Whiff" 8 out of 10; it's a clever cartoon that deserves to be better known, with or without Smell-O-Vision.

"The Tale of Old Whiff"

Produced by Nathan Zucker
Directed by Alan Zaslove
Written by Leo Salkin
Animated by John Hubley

Voice: Bert Lahr
More in 70mm reading:

Interview with Mike Todd Jr.

"Scent of Mystery" review

Internet link:


About Fergus (F. Gwynplaine) MacIntyre

Yours is the very first email I've ever received concerning my review of this particular film! Yes, you have my absolute consent to reproduce my review on your website or in any not-for-profit publication, providing I am credited (under the name "F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre") as author.

I thank you to the link to your website. I took a look at it and I'm very impressed. Even more so when I realised that your site originates in Britain: land of the fleapit cinemas, which I hardly equate to 70mm.

Somewhere in the cellar of my house in Wales, I have an original copy of the press book for 'Scent of Mystery', which is also the press book for 'Tale of Old Whiff', and it includes some frame enlargements from that film. If I can find it, I'll try to scan some of the (very tiny) enlargements and see if I can email them to you ... although, again, I don't own the rights to this material.

Thank you for reading my IMDb reviews. I'm not an employee of IMDb, and they don't pay me for my reviews. I'm a full-time author/journalist. If you log onto and go to their Books page, then key a search for my byline "F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre", you'll see a couple of books that I wrote and illustrated. One of these is my Victorian erotic horror/romance novel 'The Woman Between the Worlds', in which Arthur Conan Doyle, Aleister Crowley, William B Yeats and several other famous Victorians help a shape-changing woman in her battle to save Earth from an invasion of invisible aliens. This novel got rave reviews from Harlan Ellison on cable tv's Sci-Fi Channel. I'm also the author and illustrator of a humour anthology, "MacIntyre's Improbable Bestiary", which has some material about Lon Chaney and silent films.

-- Fergus (F. Gwynplaine) MacIntyre
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Updated 23-12-14