Posted by: Bystander PJ10 FEB 2010
Many years ago, as a pharmacy undergraduate involved with editing my college’s student magazine, I was intrigued to receive an invitation to a press screening of a mystery film called ‘Holiday in Spain’. Since it was a free ride, I decided to go along.
The film had a simple plot in which a photographer discovers a plan to kill an American heiress while she is holidaying in Spain. The photographer recruits a taxi driver and they dash through pretty Spanish scenery to thwart the assassination.
What puzzled me was the film’s many bizarre references to smells — perfume, flowers, fresh bread, tobacco, etc. Only later did I learn that the film had been made to be accompanied by the release of aromas into the cinema, with the plot depending on the odours to provide important details to the audience. For example, the heiress’s appearances were heralded by her distinctive perfume and the assassin’s by the smell of his pipe smoke.
I later learnt that the film had been premiered in the US years earlier — 50 years ago this month (February), to be precise — as ‘Scent of mystery’. Cinemas in three US cities had been specially equipped with Smell-O-Vision, a system designed to release odours into the auditorium at timed points in the film’s plot and then suck them away again before the next smell was released. Unfortunately, the mechanism did not work properly and a distracting hissing noise accompanied the release of each aroma.
Furthermore, the smells were not evenly distributed. They reached some audience members several seconds too late and in other parts of the cinema they were so faint that movie-goers sniffed noisily in an effort to catch them. By the time the manufacturer solved these problems, it was too late. The film had failed miserably.
‘Scent of mystery’ was aired once on US television, in conjunction with a convenience store promotion that offered viewers scratch-and-sniff cards in an attempt to recreate the cinema experience.
By the way, the heiress was a non-speaking role and the uncredited actress was seen only from behind until the film’s climax, when she turned round to reveal the face of Elizabeth Taylor. No doubt the earlier rear view scenes had been played by some lesser mortal, with the big Hollywood star turning up only for that one final scene.