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"Scent of Mystery", the First and Only Use of Smell-O-Vision

Scent of Mystery FilmPoster

Poster for Scent of Mystery after it had been renamed and remarketed as Holiday in Spain.

The 1960 mystery film, Scent of Mystery, starring Denholm Elliott, Peter Lorre and Elizabeth Taylor, was the only film to feature Smell-O-Vision, a system that timed odors to points in the film's plot. It was the first film in which aromas were integral to the story, providing important details to the audience. It was produced by Mike Todd, Jr., the stepson of Elizabeth Taylor. In 2014, when I wrote this entry, Smell-O-Vision was considered an early, kitschy step in the direction of virtual reality.

"The film opened in three specially equipped theaters in February, 1960, in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Unfortunately, the mechanism did not work properly. According to Variety, aromas were released with a distracting hissing noise and audience members in the balcony complained that the scents reached them several seconds after the action was shown on the screen. In other parts of the theater, the odors were too faint, causing audience members to sniff loudly in an attempt to catch the scent.

"Technical adjustments by the manufacturers of Smell-O-Vision solved these problems, but by then it was too late. Negative reviews, in conjunction with word of mouth, caused the film to fail miserably. Comedian Henny Youngman quipped, "I didn't understand the picture. I had a cold." Todd did not produce another film until 1979's The Bell Jar, which was also his last film.

"The film was eventually retitled as Holiday in Spain and re-released, sans odors. However, as The Daily Telegraph described it, "the film acquired a baffling, almost surreal quality, since there was no reason why, for example, a loaf of bread should be lifted from the oven and thrust into the camera for what seemed to be an unconscionably long time."

"Scent of Mystery was aired once on television by MTV in the 1980s, in conjunction with a convenience store promotion that offered scratch and sniff cards that viewers were to use to recreate the theater experience" (Wikipedia article on Scent of Mystery, accessed 04-03-2014.)

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