Scent of Mystery
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Scent of Mystery
Scent of Mystery
Scent of Mystery FilmPoster.jpeg
A film poster bearing the film's new title: Holiday in Spain
Directed byJack Cardiff
Produced byMike Todd Jr.
Screenplay byGerald Kersh
Based onGhost of a Chance
1947 novel
by Kelley Roos
StarringDenholm Elliott
Peter Lorre
Elizabeth Taylor
Music byHarold Adamson
Mario Nascimbene
Jordan Ramin
CinematographyJohn von Kotze
Edited byJames E. Newcom
Color processTodd Color
Release date
  • 1960 (1960)
Running time
125 minutes (original cut)
102 mins (re-release)
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[1]
Box office$300,000 (US/Canada rentals)[2]

Scent of Mystery is a 1960 mystery film, the first to use the Smell-O-Vision system to release odors at 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., who, in conjunction with his father Mike Todd, had produced such spectacles as This Is Cinerama and Around the World in Eighty Days.

The film was released in Cinerama under the title Holiday in Spain without Smell-O-Vision. In 2012, the film was restored, reconstructed and re-released by David Strohmaier. In 2015, a version complete with reconstructed scents was presented at screenings in Los Angeles, Denmark and England.[3]

Jack Cardiff called it the "one film I want to erase from my memory. The reason for this is that, through no fault of my own, the film was a complete disaster."[4]


A mystery novelist, played by Denholm Elliott, discovers a plan to murder an American heiress, played by Elizabeth Taylor in an uncredited role, while on vacation in Spain. He enlists the help of a taxi driver, played by Peter Lorre, to travel across the Spanish countryside in order to thwart the crime.[5]


Ghost of a Chance

The screenplay was adapted from the 1947 novel Ghost of a Chance by Kelley Roos, the pen name of husband-and-wife mystery writers Audrey Kelley and William Roos.[6] The novel was set in locations in New York City and was about a husband and wife investigating a possible murder of a woman about whose existence they are unsure.[7]

Kelley Roos also wrote a 1959 paperback novelization of the screenplay, reset in Spain.[8]The New York Times wrote that "... unlike almost all other film adaptations, it's a highly entertaining book - so light and bright and gay in its wild adventure in southern Spain that you never care whether it makes much sense or not."[9]

Smell technology

According to the Los Angeles Times, in 1954, Mike Todd Sr. was introduced to the Smell-O-Vision process, which enabled certain odors to be released into a theater during a screening. Todd was enthusiastic about the process, which was invented by a Swiss professor named Hans Laube (1900-76). Laube had demonstrated the concept at the 1939 New York World's Fair.[10]

Todd Sr. considered incorporating it into Around the World in Eighty Days but decided against it. When Todd died, his son decided to use Laube's process in a film that would incorporate the sense of smell into the actual storytelling process.

For the film's director, Todd Jr. chose Jack Cardiff, a leading cinematographer whom Todd Sr. had wanted to shoot the never-filmed Don Quixote and who had just made his directorial debut with Sons and Lovers. Cardiff later said that "... using smells in a film was also an ambition I had had for years."[4]

Some scenes were designed to highlight Smell-O-Vision's capabilities.[11] In one, wine casks fall off a wagon and roll down a hill, smashing against a wall, at which point a grape scent was released.[12] Other scenes were accompanied by aromas that revealed key points to the audience. For example, the assassin was identified by the smell of a smoking pipe.[13]


Cardiff says that he recommended Peter Sellers to play the lead role, but a nervous Sellers made a poor impression on Todd during a lunch meeting. The lead instead went to Denholm Elliott.[4]


During production, the film was titled The Chase Is On.

Filming started April 1959 near Barcelona, and took three months.[14] The film was shot entirely in Spain and involved traveling 100,000 kilometres. It was filmed in color using the Todd-AO process. Locations included Seville's San Tomo Bridge, El Chorro, Granada, Córdoba, Madrid, Barcelona, Pamplona, the Alhambra and Málaga Cathedral.[1]

Filmink argued that Beverly Bentley's role should have been played by Diana Dors, who instead had a cameo.[15] Bentley was a television actress from Atlanta whom Todd had discovered.[10]

In May, Peter Lorre suffered a heart attack while filming near Grenada.[16] Cardiff says that a double was then employed for most of Lorre's subsequent scenes.[4]

Cardiff has said, "Shooting the film was exciting and we were all convinced we had a great movie." However, halfway through filming, he asked Todd if he had actually experienced the Smell-O-Vision effect, but Todd had not, so samples were sent to them by Dr. Laube, the inventor of the process. "It's hard to believe but each labelled glass smelled exactly the same as the others-like a very cheap eau de cologne," said Cardiff, "... it was such a sad thing that the film was made ... as integral part of the film was of course the use of smells, and it didn't come off because the smells were nothing, they were a fake."[4]

Todd said, "... we want to make a good picture with laughs, entertainment and thrills - and we hope it will be received with critical approval. Already our film has been referred to as the original smellodrama and the first picture that smells. But no matter what we call the process we are pioneers, and its got to be good or the boys will take full advantage of the connotation. I hope it is the kind of picture they call a scent-sation."[10]

Scents used in the film

  • Pipe tobacco: Smoked by the villain
  • Coffee
  • Roses
  • Wine
  • Gunpowder
  • peppermint
  • Shoe polish
  • Gasoline
  • Perfume: The method to identify the girl whose life is in danger
  • Flowers
  • Brandy
  • Fresh sea air
  • Peaches
  • Bananas
  • Wine
  • Wood shavings

Rival film

Scent of Mystery was not the only attempt to combine cinema and smell. The AromaRama system, which released scents through the air conditioning system of a theater, was first used for the travelogue Behind the Great Wall in December 1959.[17][18]


Costs of the Smell-O-Vision system were high. It took an estimated $25 to $30 per seat to install and use Smell-O-Vision at a time when a movie tickets cost less than $1.[3]

Ads for the film proclaimed: "First they moved (1895)! Then they talked (1927)! Now they smell!" Producer Mike Todd, who was a bit of a showman, engaged in such hyperbole, saying, "I hope it's the kind of picture they call a scentsation!" He also got help from newspaper columnists such as Earl Wilson, who lauded the system, claiming that Smell-O-Vision "can produce anything from skunk to perfume, and remove it instantly." New York Times writer Richard Nason believed that it was a major advance in filmmaking. As such, expectations for the film were great.[19]


The film opened in three specially equipped theaters in February 1960, in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. However, the mechanism did not work well. 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 scents.[19]

Cardiff recalled that the Chicago screening worked well: "Exactly on cue you'd get the whiff of the smell coming up from the seat in front of you, so you'd smell it", adding that the "press and everybody, they all said the same thing: there is no particular smell about anything. It was all a kind of cheap eau de cologne. This was a disaster. And then later on we ran it in New York, and that was the end of that because it had terrible notices because it was not a genuine Smell-O-Vision at all. It was a very interesting story with a marvellous photographic background of Spain, but the smell, for which it was made, didn't exist."[4]

The daughter of Smell-O-Vision inventor Hans Laube's later claimed that the technology used at these screenings was different from what her father had envisioned. She wrote, "The producers realized they could save a fortune if they air-conditioned the scents in rather than install the elegant, costly little units in front of each theatre seat. Hans's concept was, install the scent emitters in front of a certain number of seats. Send the scent; send some neutralizer. Personalized. Tidy and elegant. (And apparently, costly.) So very late in the game, one of the producers decided they could make much more $ by using the air conditioner to waft in the scents. And, screw the neutralizer. So the film became known as Mike Todd Jr's only Stinker."[20]

Technical adjustments by Smell-O-Vision's manufacturers solved these problems, but by then it was too late. Negative reviews, in conjunction with word of mouth, caused the film to fail miserably, with theatrical rentals of only $300,000 in the United States and Canada.[2] Comedian Henny Youngman quipped, "I didn't understand the picture. I had a cold."[21]

Todd later said that his press agent Bill Doll "... had an idea that would have saved the damned thing if we'd thought of it before the film opened. And that was to reverse the pump. It sucked air back, so that there was no overhang on the previous smell. Otherwise it just sort of drifted in between smells. It wasn't over powering, but just enough not to make the clearest delineation. Bill got this idea after the third opening. It was used, and it worked perfectly, but by that time the ship had sailed."[22]


Variety said that the film "... has many elements that are derivative of a Hitchcock chase film, the late Mike Todd's "Around the World in Eighty Days", and the Cinerama travelogue technique ... The travelog is neatly integrated as part of the chase."[23]

The New York Times said:

As theatrical exhibitionism, it is gaudy, sprawling and full of sound. But as an attempt at a considerable motion picture it has to be classified as bunk... It is an artless, loose-jointed "chase" picture... Whatever novel stimulation it might afford with the projection of smells appears to be dubious and dependent upon the noses of the individual viewers and the smell-projector's whims... Indistinct is the right word for the whole silly plot of the film and the casual, confused performance of it, which is virtually amateur. Except for the job of Peter Lorre... the acting is downright atrocious.[24]

The Los Angeles Times called the film "... good family entertainment and while it is doubtful whether the smellies are here to stay you'll find this one worth a look... and smell."[25]

Box office

The film made only $300,000 in North America. Todd later said that he felt that the idea "... was just a novelty gimmick. Maybe, if it was a gigantic hit, you might make a second film, and at the most, a third, but that would have been it."[22]

Todd did not produce another film until 1979's The Bell Jar, which was also his last film.[26]

Holiday in Spain release

The film was retitled as Holiday in Spain and re-released, but without the odors, by Cinerama, which needed new product for its specially equipped theaters. The film was converted into three-strip prints that could be exhibited on the very wide, deeply curved screens in the special theaters. However, having been converted from Smell-O-Vision, 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."[19][27]

Scent of Mystery was aired once on television by MTV and syndicated on local TV stations in the 1980s. A convenience-store promotion, similar to that for the movie Polyester, offered scratch-and-sniff cards for viewers to recreate the theater experience.[5]


In 2012, Holiday in Spain was completely restored and digitally reconstructed by film editor and Cinerama restoration specialist David Strohmaier. Only portions of the original camera negative remained in usable condition, so the remaining parts of the film were reconstructed from two archival 70-mm Eastmancolor prints. Not enough of the deleted footage from the original Scent of Mystery was recovered to be able to restore that version as well. The newly restored film was released on Blu-ray in 2014 by Screen Archives.[27]

In 2015, Australian film producer Tammy Burnstock and artist and scent creator Saskia Wilson-Brown revived the Smell-O-Vision experience, presenting Strohmaier's restored film at screenings in Los Angeles, Denmark and England. The only information about the scents used in the original production was a list with entries such as "happy odor of baking bread" and "the faint smell of a yellow rose." Without any perfumers' or chemists' specifications, Wilson-Brown recreated the film's smells from scratch by blending possible aroma ingredients.[3][28]


The Scent of Mystery soundtrack was released on CD in 2011 on the Kritzerland label. It features a score composed by Mario Nascimbene and two songs from the film sung by Eddie Fisher.

See also


  1. ^ a b A. H. WEILER (12 July 1959). "PASSING PICTURE SCENE: Trailing 'Scent of Mystery' Through Spain -- Espionage -- Other Matters". New York Times. p. X5.
  2. ^ a b "Feature films shot, released domestically in 70mm process". Daily Variety. May 21, 1992. p. 22.
  3. ^ a b c Gross, Daniel A. (2017). "The Third Sense". Distillations. 2 (4): 6-7. Retrieved 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Burnstock, Tammy (1986). "Jack Cardiff about "Scent of Mystery"".
  5. ^ a b Coles, David. ""Scent of Mystery" Playdate History". The 70mm Newsletter. Retrieved 2017.
  6. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. 1960. p. 599. Retrieved 2017.
  7. ^ "GHOST OF A CHANCE By Kelley Roos. 190 pp. New York: A.A. Wyn. $2". New York Times. Apr 20, 1947. p. BR34.
  8. ^ Pronzini, Bill; Muller, Marcia (1986). 1001 midnights: the aficionado's guide to mystery and detective fiction. Arbor House. p. 695. ISBN 0-87795-622-7.
  9. ^ ANTHONY BOUCHER (Feb 7, 1960). "Criminals At Large: Criminals". New York Times. p. BR30.
  10. ^ a b c Scheuer, Philip (1959-04-26). "'SCENT OF MYSTERY': Movies... Talkies... and Now---Smellies!". Los Angeles Times. Sec. V, p. 2.
  11. ^ Holmes, Bob (2017). Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense. W. W. Norton & Company.
  12. ^ Stanley, Robert H. (1978). Celluloid empire : a history of the American movie industry. New York: Hastings House. p. 167. ISBN 978-0803812475.
  13. ^ Morris, Neil (2011). Gadgets and inventions. Chicago: Raintree. pp. 10-12. ISBN 141093909X.
  14. ^ "Of Local Origin". New York Times. Mar 4, 1959. p. 34.
  15. ^ Vagg, Stephen (September 7, 2020). "A Tale of Two Blondes: Diana Dors and Belinda Lee". Filmink.
  16. ^ "Peter Lorre 'Desperately' Ill". New York Times. May 12, 1959. p. 70.
  17. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 10, 1959). "Smells of China; 'Behind Great Wall' Uses AromaRama". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017.
  18. ^ Montefiore, Clarissa Sebag (13 October 2015). "The movie you can smell". BBC. Retrieved 2017.
  19. ^ a b c Smith, Martin J.; Kiger, Patrick J. (February 5, 2006). "The Lingering Reek of Smell-O-Vision". Los Angeles Times. p. 26.
  20. ^ Laube, Carmen (2016). "A Brief History about Hans Laube A personal reflection on the 'Osmologist' responsible for Smell-O-Vision". In 70mm.
  21. ^ Kirsner, Scott, Inventing the Movies, Createspace, pp. 45-46, ISBN 978-1-4382-0999-9
  22. ^ a b Frumkes, Roy (1995). "An Interview with Mike Todd, Jr". In 70mm.
  23. ^ "Variety review of "Scent of Mystery Extract of a review from 1960". In 70mm.
  24. ^ Crowther, Bosley (February 19, 1960). "Screen: Olfactory Debut: Scent of Mystery' Opens at Warner". New York Times.
  25. ^ Scott, John L. (Jan 26, 1960). "'Scent of Mystery' Odorous Adventure". Los Angeles Times. p. 16.
  26. ^ Willis, John (1983). Screen World. New York: Biblo and Tannen. p. 363. ISBN 9780819603081. Retrieved 2017.
  27. ^ a b Galbraith, Stuart, IV (December 4, 2014). "Holiday in Spain". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2017.
  28. ^ "Scent of Mystery". Institute for Art and Olfaction. Retrieved 2017.

External links

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